Helping Children Cope in the Aftermath of the Asian Tsunami

The earthquake and tsunami disasters in Asia have affected thousands of people directly and untold numbers of people including children indirectly.

The news and staggering images about this tragedy, the rising death toll, and human suffering are given continuous coverage on television, radio and the Internet. These events have been difficult to watch yet even more difficult to look away from while so many continue to experience overwhelming grief and despair.

Our children in New Jersey are not immune to this tragedy. Some may have families in the affected countries. Those that are not directly impacted can easily identify with the children who have drowned, been orphaned or kidnapped. Their greatest fears of helplessness and abandonment are brought into sharp relief even though this disaster occurred a world away.

It is important for adults who are involved with children to help them not only feel safe and protected but to also find an outlet for their feelings of fear and helplessness.

To assist children, adults can:

  • Encourage children to talk about their feelings and ask questions
  • Find out their worries or fears about this particular disaster
  • Provide accurate information regarding their own safety while taking their concerns seriously
  • Discuss the efforts world leaders are making to develop early warning systems to prevent this type of disaster in the future
  • Talk about family and school plans for various emergencies
  • Limit exposure to media coverage of this event especially of frightening images of waves and destruction
  • Maintain a regular routine
  • Increase playful, life affirming activities at home and in school
  • Discuss the relief efforts and accentuate the cooperation and aid going to the victims from around the globe
  • Mitigate children’s sense of helplessness by encouraging them to find ways of sending aid to those in need. This can be done through money raising activities for charitable organizations, such as UNICEF, Red Cross, or others listed in your local newspaper.

The following reactions are normal in the early stages of a trauma but if they become increasingly problematic with no signs of abating, it is prudent to speak to a mental health provider:

  • Somatic complaints (ie. headaches, stomach aches, muscle pain and fatigue)
  • Increased fears of various kinds including separation from caregivers
  • Nightmares
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Preoccupation with the traumatic event
  • Withdrawal
  • Increased aggression or acting out
  • Clinging or regressive behaviors
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Eating disturbances

Web Resources for Parents and School Personnel: