A fire is a particularly traumatic event as it is both dramatic and fast. While most children will bounce back and show no reactions, some children may feel vulnerable and experience some anxiety or symptoms. The aftermath of such an event may include fear, nightmares, anxiety, and difficulty being alone. Remember that exposure does not have to be direct in order to affect children.
A child’s response will depend on a number of factors: age, personality, the severity and proximity to the event and the level of support received from family and friends. The single most important resource for children after exposure is the network of adults in their lives. Most children will recover from exposure to trauma with the aid of those close to them, including parents and teachers, and without the need to turn for professional help.
Below, we offer a number of practical suggestions for helping children cope with exposure to fire:
1. Be aware of your own reactions to the event. Children work out how to react to a situation by watching the significant adults around them, particularly parents and teachers. Try, if at all possible, to behave in a calm and controlled manner.
2. Be prepared to speak about the event with your child. Your child may want to speak about the event at great length, or may prefer not to talk about it at all. Feel free to ask questions, but do not force your child to speak if he or she does not want to. If the child wants to talk about feelings, be supportive and encouraging. Show your understanding and acceptance of these feelings by explaining that feelings such as fear, anger and guilt are all normal reactions to such an “abnormal” event.
3. Be sensitive to your child’s reactions. Some children may have difficulty falling asleep, may be afraid of the dark, or refuse to be alone. All these are normal reactions after a difficult event. Be understanding and accepting. These symptoms usually disappear within a few weeks.
4. Encourage alternatives to talking. Drawing, writing, drama and music are all wonderful creative outlets that can be introduced to help children share their experiences.
5. Try to maintain a normal routine, and provide children with reassuring and realistic messages about their safety. Talk about what steps you have implemented in the home to ensure safety, and to prevent fires in the future. This will strengthen the children’s sense of safety and control.
6. Be attentive to your child’s behaviors that may signal distress. An event like the recent fire can trigger reactions in the immediate aftermath and for the next several weeks. These behaviors are normal after a traumatic event, and are the child’s way of coping with the trauma. However, if there is no change in the intensity and frequency of these behaviors after a month, or if they intensify, please contact us at Project CHAI. Call 1 855 3-CRISIS or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some Do’s and Don’ts
- Do ask your child if he or she has any questions and answer them in a forthright, matter-of-fact manner.
- Do convey confidence and reassure to children that they can rely on adults to be responsible for their safety.
- Do encourage your child to share his or her distress with you at any time.
- Do allow for minor changes in your child’s behavior in the coming weeks. Anxiety about being alone or difficulties falling asleep are all normal reactions.
- Don’t overwhelm your child with questions about what happened. Ask them once, and then leave it.
- Don’t be judgmental about your child’s reactions. Show respect for their feelings and thoughts.
- Don’t expect all kids to respond in a similar manner. Remember that there are a wide range of reactions following a traumatic event.
- Don’t hesitate to call Project CHAI and ask to speak to a professional. Feel free to consult with us even If you are uncertain whether your child needs help.
Project CHAI was established by Chai Lifeline in 2000 to help children, families, and communities heal after traumatic loss. It is the largest and oldest full-service crisis and trauma intervention service dedicated to the Jewish community. Since its inception, more than 3,500 interventions in schools, community organizations, camps, and with the families themselves have helped more than 15,000 children and families cope with the emotional and social turmoil that surrounds crisis and untimely death. For more information or immediate assistance, call 855 3-CRISIS or email email@example.com.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.