Helping Your Family in a Crisis
A violent disaster, whether natural or man-made, or a loss or tragedy within a family can shake our sense of safety and well-being. Children are especially vulnerable because they do not have the life experience, coping skills or understanding that adults. The following strategies may help children and families cope in times of crisis.
Talk about the event. Encourage family members to describe what they saw, heard, thought and felt. Children need to be reassured that they will be taken care of. Although there may be a tendency to want to protect children from emotional pain by “not talking about it”, this will only make the recovery more difficult.
Be honest, open and clear. Give children the facts in words they can understand. Without facts, a child’s imagination will fill in the details, which may be more horrifying than the reality. Telling what will happen next, or is being done, will provide a sense of security.
Listen…Children and adults need you to listen more than they need you to make them feel better. Be prepared to hear or discuss the same details again and again. This is an attempt to regain some control by understanding the event.
Stay together as a family and maintain normal routines as much as possible. If you need to be away, reassure children you will return, and tell them when.
Include children in recovery activities. Chores and responsibility appropriate to their age and abilities will help them feel less helpless. They are reassured that life continues, a sense of “normal” may return, and that they are contributing.
Modify your expectations. Give yourself and family members time and understanding to grieve and heal. Understand that performance at home, work or school may be temporarily affected. Set small, realistic goals. Break large, overwhelming jobs into smaller manageable tasks. Allow others to help.
Let your children know others love and care about them. Connect with family, friends and neighbors. Encourage them to share their experience by mailing letters or drawings, or talking on the phone.
Limit exposure to additional trauma, including news reports. Watching sensational reports again and again can cause people to re-live the traumatic experience. Reports of other disasters and “bad news” can also cause more distress.
Reassure children that it was not their fault. Children and adults often wonder if there was something they did or didn’t do to cause a crisis or tragedy. Likewise, people may question if there was something more they could have done to prevent it. Guilt may be expressed in behaviors or emotions that are self-destructive.
Resources for help. Sometimes additional help is needed to deal with trauma or life changes. Child Guidance Programs in County Health Departments statewide provide family support, parenting education and counseling services. Community Mental Health Centers and Youth Services agencies offer counseling services and support. Talking to a minister, rabbi or other spiritual leader may also provide relief.