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Supporting Children’s Well-being After Natural Disasters

During this pandemic, the children need full support from the adults around them to cope with the current situation. The parents, teachers, family, friends, or health volunteers can help them to deal with the situation or unexpected event in their lives.

    Dr. Sison shared her knowledge and expertise to guide the adults in handling children’s responses and behavior. Also, along with this, she gave recommendations on how to properly manage what the child is experiencing. 

Dr. Gia Sison is a practicing medical doctor specializing in occupational medicine, who is a graduate of UST. She is also a Philippine Leader for Livestrong Foundation and the National Leader for Youth Coalition.

Let us learn on how to support the children’s well-being after natural disasters.

What makes children vulnerable?

They are vulnerable when…
-the understanding is less,
-there is less control and experience, and
-there is challenge in communicating their feelings.

Determinants of  impact of natural disasters to a child:

-exposure to the actual event
-personal injury
-dislocation from their home or community

Common symptoms for post traumatic stress disorder:

-re-experinceing the traumatic event
-avoidance and numbing

Dr. Gia shared the meaning of TRAUMA through the following words.

T- raumatic event
R- e-experience
A- voidance
U- nable to function
M-onth (at least)

Recognize traumatic responses:

-Engaging in repetitive play that re-enacts the trauma
-Being alert, tense and on-edge 
-Having dreams or nightmares of the event

According to Dr. Gia, “Emotional responses that are persistent and impair a return to normal functioning should be considered pathologic.”

5 Factors That Increase the Risk of “Traumatic Grief”

  1. Sudden, unanticipated deaths
  2. Deaths involving violence, mutilation, and destruction
  3. Deaths that are perceived as random or preventable, or both
  4. Multiple deaths
  5. Deaths witnessed by the survivor that are associated with a significant threat to personal survival or massive or confrontation with death and mutilation.

When to refer?

  • When the condition is progressing or worsening
  • The communication with other people like families and friends are affected

How to provide support to children?

Before the disaster:

  1. discuss to the child about the situation
  2. plan to reunite with family members
  3. engage the child to participate in school drills

How to manage regressive behavior appropriately?

Dr. Gia also shared how to manage regressive behavior properly with the following steps. First, accept and acknowledge the behavior of the child. Second, do not punish them for their behavior. Finally, reward them with their desired responses.  

Understand Emotional Reactions: 

  • Talk about how you feel especially to your child what has happened and acknowledge their responses as natural and normal for the current situation. 
  • Show honesty to the children to help deal with the situation.
  • Make sure that you are prepared to answer questions.
  • Work with others like teachers, and other adults. 
  • Reassuring your child that everyone is safe and loved. 
  • Limit media exposure to protect your child’s feeling and understanding of the situation.
  • Stick to the routines by setting as a good example to your child. 
  • Try to do family-based activities that will give connectedness or togetherness to the family.
  • Take action if your child shows helplessness.

Recommendations on Specific Concerns Among Children Exposed to Traumatic Events:

  • Sleep disorders
    Set the time for sleeping. Reassure the child that you are with them when they sleep.
  • Excessive Clinging
    Reassure that the child is safe. Make sure that you encourage physical contact like cuddling. Also, explain to the child the reason of separation.
  • School Problems
    Seek rapid school reintegration, take a break from school works when necessary
  • Anxiety
    Reassure the child. Be careful with your own anxiety not to transmit it to the child.
  • Rebellious, hostile and reckless behavior
    Show patience. Give rules to the child. 
  • Pain and Somatic Complaints
    Rule out medical conditions and if necessary, resort to health services. Also, make sure to identify the connection between what happens and the symptoms.

Dr. Gia has shared many things about supporting the child’s well-being after a disaster, and this would greatly need the cooperation, love and dedication of the adults or people around them to help them get through it.