is normal for children to be afraid, especially after a natural
disaster. The fear may last for an extended period of time and
is best handled with kindness and understanding on the part
of the parents. Children should be encouraged to talk about
their feelings and express their fears through play, drawing,
painting, or clay/playdough.
indicates that children's fears vary according to age, maturation,
and previous learning experiences. Four major fears common
in children are: death, darkness, animals, and abandonment.
important aspect of children's fears is that they may be intensified
when adults refuse or are reluctant to discuss them with children.
Many families ban all painful topics from family conversation.
Such strategies inflict high costs in terms of intensified
despair and negativity among children. To help children cope
with fears, one of the most important steps adults can take
is to take the time to talk with children.
upset at the loss of a favorite toy, blanket, teddy bear,
angry. They may hit, throw, kick to show their anger.
more active and restless.
afraid of the disaster recurring. They may ask many times,
"Will it come again?"
afraid to be left alone or afraid to sleep alone. Children
may want to sleep with a parent or another person. They
may have nightmares.
as they did when younger. They may start sucking their thumb,
wetting the bed, asking for a bottle, wanting to be held.
symptoms of illness such as nausea, vomiting, headaches,
not wanting to eat, running a fever.
quiet and withdrawn, not wanting to talk about the experience.
become upset easily -crying and whining frequently.
guilty that they caused the disaster because of some previous
neglected by parents who are busy trying to clean up and
rebuild their lives and homes.
to go to school or to child care arrangements. The child
may not want to be out of the parent's sight.
afraid of loud noises, rain, storms.
show any outward sign of being upset. Some children may
never show distress because they do not feel upset. Other
children may not give evidence of being upset until several
weeks or months later.
with your child, providing simple, accurate information
with your child about your own feelings.
to what your child says and how your child says it. Is there
fear, anxiety, insecurity? Repeating the child's words may
be very helpful, such as "You are afraid that...", or "You
wonder if the storm will come again tonight." This helps
both you and the child clarify feelings.
your child, "We are together. We care about you. We will
take care of you."
may need to repeat information and reassurances many times.
Do not stop responding just because you told the child once
or even 10 times.
your child. Provide comfort. Touching is important for children
during this period. Close contact helps assure children
that you are there and will not abandon them.
extra time putting your child to bed. Talk and offer assurance.
Leave a night light on if that makes the child feel more
your child at play. Listen to what is said and how the child
plays. Frequently children express feelings of fear or anger
while playing with dolls, trucks, or friends after a major
play experiences to relieve tension. Work with playdough,
paint, play in water, etc. If children show a need to hit
or kick, give them something safe like a pillow, ball, or
balloon. Allow a safe, open space for them to play if possible.
your child lost a meaningful toy or blanket, allow the child
to mourn and grieve (by crying, perhaps). It is all part
of helping the young child cope with feelings about the
disaster. In time, it may be helpful to replace the lost
you need help for your child, contact your Extension office,
mental health agency, or a clergy member.
Publication #: 490-309
on information developed by Clemson Cooperative Extension
following Hurricane Hugo. Revised for Virginia audiences by
Virginia Cooperative Extension.
more information, contact your local office of Virginia Cooperative
Disclaimer and Reproduction Information: Information in
NASD does not represent NIOSH policy. Information included in
NASD appears by permission of the author and/or copyright holder.