It’s been a rough couple of months – from “once in a lifetime” hurricanes, to severe earthquakes and never-ending forest fires. If it isn’t one thing, it’s another; and it seems like no matter where you live in the U.S., your life is somehow impacted by a natural disaster.
Even if you think your students are sheltered from the news and media, they still manage to piece together enough information to be scared. Oftentimes an event doesn’t have to have a direct impact on them, but just knowing that these horrible catastrophes can occur can be quite overwhelming to many children – and some adults as well!
Have you noticed sudden changes in a child’s behavior? Or maybe the student just really seems off. Research shows that a child’s body chemistry changes during times of great fear. It’s possible that the child is experiencing trauma from a recent event. As a teacher, you are in an excellent position to recognize these fears and work with the child to guide him/her through these tough times.
Once you have recognized that a child is struggling, communication is key. One very important and highly forgotten part of communication is listening. Listen, and show the child that you recognize and understand these feelings. Use child-friendly helpful words. You can communicate verbally and non-verbally and pay attention and listen to what the student has to say.
Create a safe environment for your students. Prepare engaging, uncluttered play areas that help reinforce a sense of security and control. Create safe outlets for stress.
The trauma from a natural disaster can be so overwhelming and difficult that a child may not be able to talk about it. There are many activities that can help children express their feelings and create outlets for pent-up feeling. Some of these activities include art, music and movement, and sand and water play.
Health and Nutrition
When people are stressed, one of the first things to get disturbed is their eating and sleeping habits. This is true for everyone, child or adult. It is very important to encourage children to eat when they are in your care. If they need extra nap time, allow them to sleep. Getting good nutrition and sleep is very important for children’s successful education as well as their overall well-being.
There are a huge number of resources out there to guide teachers through the process of helping children cope with natural disasters. The concepts we presented above are covered in great detail with accompanying activities for teachers to use with their students in the DVD program Helping Children Cope with Frightening Events…What You Can Do!