Kids across the region got a jolt, a literal one, yesterday afternoon that had parents asking questions many of us had not expected to face. Terrorism questions, maybe, but explaining an earthquake?
Experts at the Children’s National Medical Center have compiled tips on how to talk with children about the event, especially those who may feel anxious in coming days.
Here they are:
• Create a feeling of safety: Your child looks to you to create a feeling of safety and security. Your ability to remain calm can do much for your child. Share in simple terms how you are feeling and explain ways that you are trying to cope with what happened. Emphasize that you and other adults are doing everything possible to make sure that people are safe, secure and free from harm.
• Be available: Let your children ask questions. Know that you may need to repeat information that is difficult to understand.
• Respect all feelings: Your child’s feelings, thoughts and reactions may be different from your own.
• Be age-appropriate: Each child reacts to disasters according to his/her emotional and developmental stage. Each stage brings to a child a new understanding of the world and how events happen. Therefore, it is important to explain the events in words that a child can understand.
• Express through play and art: Some children may not want to talk about their feelings or fears. Help them express how they are feeling through drawing, playing, writing or other age-appropriate activities.
• Reframe: Your child will receive information not only from you, but also from peers and the media. Ask your child about what he or she knows. If your child chooses to do so, let him or her explain in his or her own words the earthquake and its effects. This will provide an opportunity to clear up any misinformation or misconceptions.
• Educate: You may need to provide explanation about what are aftershocks and that they will become fewer in number and less strong over time. Provide children with the basic, accurate information that they need. You may want to avoid too much detail, as that may be upsetting.
• Reduce media exposure: Minimize your child’s exposure to media coverage of the earthquake. Hearing reports that may be overly sensationalized may only heighten a child’s anxiety. For example, a young child may not understand that reports about the earthquake are replays of an event, and may think that a new earthquake has occurred.
• Reach out: Talk about ways that your child can help other people who may also be nervous about the earthquake of its aftershocks.
• Get support for yourself: Vent your concerns, fears, and anxieties to another caring adult, not your child.
— From Children’s National Medical Center, “Helpful Tips for Explaining an Earthquake to Your Child or Teen.”