SOURCE: Ellen Braaten

September 12, 2005 08:30 ET

Helping Kids Cope With Disaster -- Listening and Reassurance Key to Recovery, Says Child Psychologist

BOSTON, MA -- (MARKET WIRE) -- September 12, 2005 -- Helping children deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is an immediate priority, says child psychologist Ellen Braaten, Ph.D. Any child, whether personally involved or exposed to media coverage of a natural disaster, may experience physical or emotional trauma related to the event. Children look to adults around them for coping strategies and reassurance. As recovery operations continue in affected areas, parents and teachers can help rebuild kids' lives gradually.

"A child's reaction will vary depending upon exposure to the event and their personality. Emotional recovery may take months or even years," says Braaten. "Reactions to the event can be immediate, or occur days or weeks later. The disaster is a double-whammy for kids already stressing about being back at school. Parents should monitor their child's behavior and discuss any concerns with a pediatrician, teacher or suitably qualified professional."

Braaten offers the following advice:

1. Listen -- Allow the child to express fear and anxiety. Be an empathetic and non-judgemental listener. Whether the child is three or 13, give them an opportunity to ask questions and talk about the event. However, don't push them into talking. Answer questions appropriately stressing positive solutions, such as, the recovery underway and helping others. If appropriate, suggest that the child come with you to make a charitable donation. Explain that feeling bad, sad, angry or guilty is normal.

2. Reassure -- Try to remain calm, especially when watching the news or talking to others. Don't expect kids to be brave or tell them not to cry. A sense of impending doom or panic can affect some children; reassure them as best you can, tell them that you are there for them. Parents can provide extra hugs and try to maintain, where possible, a normal routine. Normal daily activities maintain the familiarity of a stable environment. Some senses in particular can evoke painful memories; for example, images and smells. Be on guard and help them understand their feelings and reactions. Remind them of past fears they overcame and how strong they are. Find peers for the child to play or hang-out with.

3. Recover -- "With adult involvement children can develop positive coping skills and overcome catastrophic events," says Braaten, author of "Straight Talk about Psychological Testing for Kids". "Over time children will recover and face the future again."

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