The specter of a devastating fire, particularly during the holiday of Chanukah, when we celebrate the miracle of light, is horrific for all of us, but can be especially distressing to children. Your caring and support will help them get through this terrible tragedy.
Often, parents are focused on their own distress and feelings of loss in the first days and weeks following an event that shakes us all to our core. It’s critical that you remain sensitive to the distress signals your child may express. The following practical suggestions can help you and those around you respond to the crisis.
· Be aware of your own response.Children work out how to react to a situation by watching the meaningful adults around them, including parents, older siblings and teachers. As much as you can, behave in a calm and calming manner. It may be helpful to share your thoughts and feelings with other adults before talking with your children.
· Devote more attention to your child. Give your children the time and opportunity to express their experiences and feelings. Let your children know that what they are feeling is normal: fear, anger, guilt, and sadness are to be expected when something of this nature occurs.
· Be sensitive to your child’s level of understanding. Children process information differently at different age levels. Adapt the information you provide to their ages and maturity levels. Too much information can confuse young children and even add to their fear and insecurity. A good rule of thumb is to give basic information and then answer questions that arise. Encourage conversation, but don’t insist on it. Some children will not want to talk.
· Limit your child’s exposure to the media. Avoid exposing your child to graphic and live reports from the scene of traumatic events. This is particularly important in the early childhood and younger elementary school age groups. Sometimes parents are so involved in the unfolding drama on television that they are unaware that children may be listening, and that the exposure may cause distressing nightmares or thoughts.
· Try to maintain a normal routine. Give your children reassuring and realistic messages about their safety. Daily routines are very reassuring to children and carry the message of safety in a direct though nonverbal way.
· Be attentive to behaviors that signal distress. Pay attention to patterns of play that reenact the trauma again and again, and to complaints about “bad dreams.” These behaviors are normal after a traumatic event, and are the child’s way of coping with the trauma. However, if there is no change in the intensity and frequency of these behaviors after a month, or if they intensify, professional help should be considered.
· Be especially attentive to adolescents. Adolescence is a particularly vulnerable time. Any changes in behavior, sleeping or eating as well as unusual displays of anger should be dealt with immediately. Unfortunately, these symptoms don’t usually disappear on their own, and may require professional treatment.
· Be aware of your own feelings. You are your children’s main support. Take care of yourself. Share your feelings with family and friends, particularly those who have gone through something similar. Try to eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep and add physical exercise and other fun activities to your routine.
· Professional help is available. The assistance of a professional can be invaluable for enabling you or your child to process a trauma and return to normalcy.PROJECT CHAI PROFESSIONALS ARE AVAILABLE BY PHONE AT ANY TIME FOR CONSULTATION. CALL 855-3-CRISIS FOR ASSISTANCE.
If you have any questions or need further
suggestions or guidance:
Rabbi Dr. Dovid Fox
Director of Interventions and Community Education, Project Chai
Zahava Farbman, MSW
Associate Director Project Chai