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Talk to kids about earthquake fears

July 29, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
When disasters strike -- like earthquakes or brush fires -- children can be especially affected. They may not understand what's going on, and may be fearful about their safety. One expert has advice for parents.After a jolting event like Tuesday's, you can expect some kids to return to their normal activities fairly quickly, but for others it could take time.

The world may seem like a scary and unpredictable place. Children turn to adults for comfort and information and one expert who's dealt with natural disasters tells us exactly what we need to say.

He's playing now, but when the earthquake hit, 4-year-old Anthony Lee didn't know what to think.

Child psychologist Andrea Davis helped families with disaster recovery after Hurricane Hugo hit the Virgin Islands. She says kids take their cues from parents.

"Everybody wants to help a child feel better so we want to make their feelings go away sometimes, and that actually backfires," said child psychologist Andrea Davis, Ph.D. "So instead, we want to do the opposite. We want to say, 'Yes, you're scared. It's scary.' And then the fear recedes."

Initially a child may look like they've recovered, but experts say the effects may linger. Look for the signs: For months after a quake a child may have trouble falling asleep. They may even have nightmares.

"If they're waking up with nightmares, more communication, more chances to talk about and process what they're feeling, what their worries are," said Dr. Davis.

Nine-year-old Devon said the quake really shook him up and he was not sure how he was going to feel Tuesday night.

"I'm just not sure," said Devon Garber. "Because it was really sudden. It almost knocked me over."

If your child exhibits angry outbursts, aggression, appetite changes, or sleeplessness for some time after this quake, experts say that might be the time to seek professional help.

"We want them to come out of challenges like this feeling stronger, not weaker," said Dr. Davis.

One way to help kids through the trauma: Get them involved in making a family "preparedness" plan. Write out where everyone can go in an emergency, stock up a quake kit and let them help plan for various situations.

It will help them gain a feeling of control during the next emergency.

Always be open. Communicate. Give them the information.

 

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