by Rachelle Tannenbaum
"Terrorism." The word itself is scary. Events such as terrorist attacks, floods, and fires are by their very nature both unpredictable and terrifying. How can parents help their children to cope with such events? In this issue of the E-zine, we are pleased to welcome Beth Potter to shed some light on this topic.
Beth Potter is an Associate Professor and the Fieldwork Coordinator for the Human Services Department at Anne Arundel Community College. She teaches courses in Crisis Intervention and Counseling and is a member of the Maryland Disaster Mental Health Volunteer Corps. She is a licensed clinical social worker with over 15 years of experience in the mental health field. In her free time, Professor Potter enjoys spending time with family and friends, hiking, kayaking, snorkeling, and traveling.
If you'd like to learn more about this topic, then you won't want to miss our next Town Hall Meeting! Drs. Tyrone Powers and Lou Aymard will tackle the issue of "Preparing Kids for the Next Terrorist Attack." Dr. Powers, Director of the Institute for Criminal Justice, Legal Studies and Public Service at AACC, is an expert in counter-terrorism. He will address the serious threat that looms large in the 21st century. Dr. Aymard, founder of The Parenting Center, will deal with the topic from the perspective of a child psychologist. The Town Hall meeting will be on Thursday, October 26 from 7:30 to 9 p.m. in the Cade Building, room 219. It is free and open to the public. The AACC Web site has driving directions and a campus map. We hope to see you there!
TALKING TO CHILDREN AND TEENS ABOUT TERRORISM AND DISASTERS
by Beth Potter, LCSW-C
Disasters often strike quickly and without warning. Acts of terrorism and natural disaster such as storms, hurricanes, fires, tornadoes, and floods can leave a community feeling powerless and helpless. These events are devastating to our communities and can leave us feeling frustrated and angry. Explaining events, such as these, to children can be very difficult—especially when we, as adults, do not fully understand them ourselves. Here are some things you can do to minimize the effects of such events:
Be prepared. The most important thing you can do is be prepared for an emergency, such as a natural disaster or terrorist attack. Know your community’s disaster plan. Have a survival kit at home, that includes food, water, medicine, flashlights, and a radio. Teach children and teens how to recognize danger signals, such as smoke and fire alarms and community warning/defense sirens.
Facing fears, after disaster strikes. Most children are afraid that the event will happen again, someone will be killed or injured, they will be separated from family members, and/or they will be left alone. After disaster strikes, keep your family together as much as possible.
Talk about what happened with your children. Discuss why the event was so disturbing and stressful—lack of warning, abrupt change of reality and the outcome of rescue attempts. Be honest and explain what will happen next. Discuss media coverage and don’t become consumed with watching the event over and over. All of us are subject to becoming re-traumatized by watching the event reoccur on television. Reassure children of their safety and security. Maintain your normal routine as much as possible.
Remember an emotional reaction to disasters is normal. Feelings of anger, shock, numbness, denial, confusion, helplessness, and fear are normal reactions to an abnormal event. Some children and teens may even have physical feelings, such as headaches, stomachaches, insomnia, body aches and pains associated with the stress of the event. Seek professional help if physical or emotional feelings persist for weeks or months after the event.
Emphasize positive coping skills. Remind your family that bottling up emotions is not healthy. Allow your child to freely express feelings. Normalize feelings and engage in family activities that emphasize security and safety. Engage your children and teens in a helping activity, such as a food or clothing drive. Doing something to actually help people in need can reduce feelings of helplessness or powerlessness.
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