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Bushfires have dominated the news these holidays. For some, the holiday season has been about survival and trying to keep a roof over their heads. For others, it’s been the mixed feelings of sadness and at times anger as we monitor the news. There have been stories we have read about where we have felt proud about our fellow Australians – mixed in among the distressing ones. For many of us, we have experienced worry as we have watched daily coverage about the bushfires. Sometimes, even frustration as we look for meaningful ways to help.
Through all of this time (and times to come) our children have also been watching. Through the media, they are learning about the impact of the bushfires on people, communities and animals. They are also learning from how we as parents respond to the news. While older children may be able to use their words to ask about what is happening and seek reassurance, younger children often can’t. Changes in behaviour are often how we know if a child is feeling distress or anxiety.
Signs to look out for
Whether it’s to do with the bushfires or other natural disasters, children may be displaying symptoms of anxiety and distress through their behaviour. During the school holidays, these are some behaviour changes to look more closely at:
- sleep changes – nightmares, sudden difficulties sleeping alone and/or difficulties falling asleep
- eating changes – loss of appetite or a sudden increase in appetite
- mood changes – increased anger or irritability (this can also look like a sudden increase in defiant behaviour).
- increased clinginess – needing to be physically close to their parents, needing more physical affection, separation anxiety
- increased complaints about feeling unwell – complaining of tummy aches, headaches – where there is no underlying medical concern.
How can parents help
There are three keys things that parents can do to help children feeling anxious about bushfires:
- Limit how much exposure your child has to the news. Re-occurring images about devastated communities, the impact on wildlife and the anger people are feeling are scary for children. If anything, it’s the news stories about bravery, communities supporting each other, animals being cared for that is the range of stories to let young ones see. Make sure to talk about any of the stories children are seeing -both to provide balance and to provide reassurance.
- Monitor your own feelings and responses. Big feelings (anger, fear, sadness) being expressed by parents can be overwhelming to young children. As parents, we need to find places to express these away from our children.
- Reassure children. When children are expressing their own fears, they need to be reminded that they are loved and cared for and most importantly, personally safe. Let them know that there are people in the community helping those that need help, including the animals.
These same strategies are also relevant for older children too.
Lastly, it’s normal for everyone to have big feelings when terrible things are happening in the world. However, if your child continues to remain anxious after the bushfires, then it might be time to seek help. Your GP or school student services team (once school is back on board) are good places to start. You are also welcome to talk to one of our psychologists.
Please feel free to ring Reception on 9274 7062 for information about our services.