Updated: Jan 9
Bushfires have been burning across Australia, particularly in Victoria and NSW. There have been fatalities including the death of brave firefighters and many homes and businesses have been destroyed. It will take some time for communities to recover.
Bushfires and other natural disasters are traumatic experiences, particularly for children. People respond to trauma in different ways. Adults can struggle emotionally however in general, they have a raft of coping strategies that they have learned over their life compared to children who have yet to develop the range of coping skills. Also, from a cognitive perspective, children and teenagers are still developing and so their capacity to understand the events and incorporate them into their experience is somewhat limited. Children cannot always express the way that they are feeling. Mental health problems including anxiety, depression and distress can arise. For these reasons it is important to ensure that children are well supported in the aftermath of traumatic events.
Trauma is often reactivated by reminders and the images and stories of the recent bushfires may be retraumatising for people - children and adults - who lived through the Black Saturday fires in Victoria in 2009.
Here is some information that will help you to support your child or young person deal with trauma.
What are the signs of trauma to look out for?
Children can not always express or communicate their feelings however there are a range of signs of trauma including:-
* mood swings
* regressed behaviour e.g., bed wetting, biting, hitting
* changes in the way that they play
* difficulty sleeping
* poor appetite
* withdrawing from others
* wanting to be close to parents or caregivers
* distress or avoidance of reminders e.g., television or conversations
What can I do to be a good support?
There are a range of things that parents, caregivers and other important people can do to provide emotional support to children impacted by the bushfires. For example:-
Children need reassurance and to know that they are safe.
Encourage your child to talk about their feelings. Use their language - do they feel scared, sad, worried?
Listen to their stories about what happened.
Normalise their experience.
Everyone has “big feelings”. Validate theirs. Yes, it was scary.
Where possible keep your feelings to yourself. However it can be helpful to acknowledge that you too were scared but everything is okay now. There is no danger.
Try to remain calm and be positive.
Monitor and limit children's exposure to the media. Images and information about the fires and traumatic events can re-traumatise.
Do some fun things together.
Try to get back to a routine where possible.
To be a good support for your child or children, you need to take care of yourself.
Seek professional support if you are concerned and if trauma symptoms persist. Visit your GP and get a referral to a psychologist. It is about preventing problems and helping children to cope.
Remember, many children bounce back, are quite resilient and with support, can cope with traumatic events.