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Responding to Children in a Crisis

Responding to Children in Crisis
October 31, 2012

The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.
-C.S. Lewis

Hurricane Sandy left a trail of devastation in the Caribbean and Eastern United States.  Millions of families have been impacted.  As children return to early childhood programs, they will be experiencing many levels of trauma requiring special attention by their teachers.  In response to the 2005 hurricanes, Teaching Strategies developed a booklet, "Helping Children Rebound from a Natural Disaster," which contains much helpful advice which applies to today's situation.

For example, the booklet offers this advice for teachers:

"The teacher’s role is central: Preschoolers who have been through the trauma of a hurricane will rely on you to be their secure base. They may cling to you or stay close as they try to cope with their new situation. Try to get back to normal activities as soon as pos sible and don’t focus on the hurricane to the exclusion of other things....

"Don’t be afraid to talk about what happened, and be patient with their repetitive questions. Let children take the lead. If a child mentions the subject, listen, talk about it, answer questions, and provide comfort and support. Don’t dwell on details or allow the topic to dominate everything you do in the classroom. Find out what children think and feel. Answer questions in language that the child can understand easily. Give honest answers and use accurate vocabulary....

"Be ready to discuss difficult questions. Talk to other adults about how you might respond. Keep reminding children that you will do everything possible to keep them safe.  Remain calm and reassuring and emphasize safety. Children sense how you feel. If they sense that you are upset, disorganized, confused, or anxious, they may avoid talking about the trauma, and that will make their recovery more difficult. Share with children ways you handle things that upset you, e.g., listen to soft music; go for a walk; take slow, deep breaths. Children need physical reassurance that you can provide by sitting close together, offering hugs and smiles, and holding hands."