January 2013 saw Queensland once again hit by natural disaster with cyclone and flooding affecting thousands of families across the state. We talk to Clinical Psychologist Dr Stan Steindl about what to expect from children who have experienced or witnessed trauma or natural disaster.
Knowing the signs and how to appropriately react will greatly assist in how your child copes with the situation. Here are some possible reactions for various age groups.
Children aged 1 to 5 will need the most parental support, as they have not yet developed their own coping mechanisms. You may notice regressive behaviour in areas where they have been competent such as toileting and dressing themselves.
Some children may develop a fear of the dark or experience nightmares.
Changes in sleeping and eating habits are also symptoms to watch for.
Speech difficulties, hyperactivity and aggressive behaviour are more severe reactions. If you find this behaviour is not manageable your child may benefit from professional help.
Primary School age children
Children aged 5 to 11 may react in a similar way to preschoolers displaying regressive behaviour, new fears or insecurities. They may cling to parents and experience separation anxiety. School performance may also be affected.
Withdrawing from social circles and extracurricular activities is also a possible reaction for children of this age.
Teenagers who have been affected by the floods should be closely monitored; this is a volatile age where opinions are important and they seek normalcy. Watch for high-risk behaviour like experimenting with alcohol and drugs.
Withdrawal from friends and family is a common reaction for teenagers along with rejecting authority figures and exhibiting disruptive behaviour at school.
Teenagers may find normal household chores and school responsibilities, like homework overwhelming during this time.
Some tips for parents and carers
- Talk about it! Open communication without dwelling on the negatives will help children of all ages.
- Let children express their emotions and fears in their own way, for example, drawing, writing, play dough, role-play with dolls and soft toys.
- Set some positive goals for the year and ways each member of the family can help achieve them.
- Talk about how great the community support has been.
- Give children, especially youngsters, lots of physical affection and attention.
- Try to resume a normal household and daily routine if possible.
- Accept short term changes to school performance.