The traumatic events of bushfires and covid during 2021 have been very unsettling for all of us, particularly our children, and it’s normal to be feeling anxious and overwhelmed. Your children might need some help in understanding what is happening.
Your loving care as a parent can make a huge difference to how your children will process their experiences. Spending time together to create a shared family narrative can be a big help. Below are some suggestions that you might find helpful.
Children are like little sponges, and will absorb your distress, so if you can, please look after yourself, and attend to your own needs as well.
Firstly, whenever possible follow your child’s lead in responding to their distress. They have an innate knowledge about what they need to do to support their healing.
What you might be Seeing?
You might notice some changes in your children’s behaviour as a result of their stress and overwhelm. Some of the changes you might notice include:
- Unsettled, distressed, crying
- Changed sleeping patterns, waking more, nightmares,
- Fussy with food, loss of appetite
- Acting out, more likely to have a meltdown
- Withdrawn, clingy, loss of independence
- Headaches, tummy aches, back and neck pain
What might they be Feeling?
It’s hard to know exactly what they might be feeling, but you can make some guesses based on your own feelings and emotional responses. Some possible responses are:
- Angry, helpless
What do they Need?
Your children need to know that you are able to offer them safety and security. You are their safe base and secure haven in times of emotional turmoil, offering:
You are the most important person in your child’s life, and your calm presence is the best way you can support them in their distress. You child will lead you to whatever will help them release their tension.
Some of the Ways you can Help
There are many ways in which you can help your children deal with feelings of stress and overwhelm. Here are some suggestions:
- Listen to your children’s stories and empathise with their fear. Help them to “talk it through” if necessary, going into details if they want to, about how they are feeling, what they are thinking…
- Restore regular routines as much as possible. This gives the children a sense of safety and security
- Let them cry if this is what they need – simply being with them can be enough, offering hugs, understanding and reassurance
- Free play can be very healing – you may need to join in with them if invited to create scenarios, and role play events, perhaps racing around with water pistols to put out imaginary fires.
- Drawing and painting can help your children release their tension, using lots of colours. Even your toddler may find release through scribbling.
- Craft activities, such as making collages, cutting up pictures from magazines, or bits of coloured paper and gluing it to a background, or manipulating clay and play dough can be therapeutic
- Avoid watching the news on television
- Help them see that they are safe now
It will help to lighten the seriousness of the situation if you can find a way to have moments of fun together as a family, time to laugh and enjoy being together.
Helping the Child in us all
These activities can be helpful to the child in us all, not just our children. It’s no shame to realise that you are feeling stressed, and the above activities may be of help. We have all been through a lot, and it may take time for the full extent of the experience to surface.
One of the best ways to work through your distress is to talk it through with friends, and share stories. Visiting a local coffee shop following the bushfires, it was noticeable that people were coming together, following a natural need to de-brief.
It is quite possible that the impact of the crisis may come after the initial shock has subsided. Your children may seem fine initially, but they still need your help to process their experiences.