Children who have been affected in any way by the fires here yesterday and today will feel the emotional impact in one way or another. Even kids far from the fires may begin to feel anxious and insecure as they hear parents talk or watch media coverage. Anxiety may result in acting out behaviors such as disobedience, nagging, whining, aggression or withdrawal so it is very important for parents to understand this and stay calm and supportive.
Here are some things you can do to ease your children’s distress:
Reassure them that it is your job to take care of them and they do not need to worry about that. Our children look to us for their feelings of safety. In times of crisis they may be hyper vigilant and will take their cue from their parents so try to be aware of what you are saying (and your non-verbal communications) as far as possible given the circumstances maintain a feeling of normalcy.
Keep them close!
Provide active support and encourage the children to express their feelings and fears at this time.
Set aside some dedicated time to talk with them and answer questions in an age appropriate manner.
Be clear and calm and provide only the information they need at the time.
This requires you as a parent to breathe and work through your own anxieties so take a few moments to do so.
Keep them away from media images which may instill fear. They do not have the cognitive capacity to understand how far away this is from them and they may panic.
Overwhelming research indicates that anxious or traumatized children work their feelings out best through play and artwork as this is their emotional language.
Be creative! Use whatever you can find as toys ( empty paper towel rolls, magazines, rocks and stones, paper, plastic containers) Children are excellent at improvisation. Ask them to make a story/collage/drawing/play and to tell you about it.
Provide paper ,pencils, crayons. Draw a line down the middle of the paper. On the left side have them draw what they are thinking and feeling about the fire. Then ask them to draw themselves feeling safe and happy on the right side
Modelling clay is another excellent medium to work though scary or difficult feelings.
Play soothing music to calm your children. Make music together by drumming , clapping or Sing and dance to release tension.
Lead them through some yoga postures/jumping jacks/ to release pent up anxious energy.
Once you have answered your children’s questions use this unexpected family time to bond with your children through board games, artwork, improvised puppet shows (use socks!).
Try these Family Focus Talk topics:
What’s your funniest memory of the person on your left? What makes you happy about your family? Tell the person on your right one thing you love doing with them
Know that children cope by re-enacting trauma through play or by repeating “the fire story” often. Just know that this is okay and is therapeutic for them.
Once the crisis is over Keep an eye on your child/ren for any signs of anxiety which manifests in many ways including but not limited to behavioral, sleeping patterns, appetite and energy changes.
Licensed Marriage Family and Child Therapist
Hi! My name is Debra Jedeikin. I am a Marriage, Family, and Child Psychotherapist in Del Mar, San Diego.
I work with individuals, couples, children and families.
Psychotherapy is the process of solving emotional problems by talking with a person professionally trained to help people achieve a more fulfilling individual life, marital relationship, or family relationships.
The process of psychotherapy begins by first clearly defining the problem, and then discussing your thoughts and feelings, understanding the origin of the difficulty and developing news skills and healthy attitudes about yourself and others.
You have the right to ask your therapist questions about her qualifications, background and orientation. The most important factor in the success of psychotherapy is good communication between therapist and patient.
I believe that the individual's journey in psychotherapy is as unique as the individual. I work collaboratively with my clients to make sense of their difficulties. In psychotherapy we work towards moving out of pain, depression and anxiety into emotional well-being, happiness and a fulfilling future.
I use a psycho-dynamic orientation and sand tray therapy to work through the family history and practical solution focused therapy including cognitive-behavioral strategies to help the person move forward.