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Are You Disaster-Prepared?

Mary Davis

Tradegy

David was once outgoing and happy, without a care in the world. Now he's withdrawn and sad. Annie can't seem to calm herself. And Steve is always on the verge of tears. These children are victims of natural disasters. They've lost their secure home life. Their parents aren't coping well, and the children have been traumatized by the loss of a loved one, a pet, or a cherished possession.

In the last two years, natural disasters have seemed to multiply in cataclysmic proportions. We've seen floods ravage the Midwest, hurricanes wreak havoc in the South, and fires and earthquakes destroy entire neighborhoods in California. And natural disasters don't discriminate; adults and children alike are devastated equally.

How does disaster impact children? And how can the church prepare to help children when disaster strikes?

HOW DISASTER AFFECTS CHILDREN

Disaster turns a child's world upside down. Security is gone. Parents are often discouraged and confused. Just getting through a day at a time is all anyone can do. Children don't understand what's happening around them, and they're frightened and insecure. They fear recurrence of the disaster, injury to themselves or loved ones, death, or being left alone. Children may display regressive behavior such as thumb-sucking, backward steps in toilet training, or fear of going to sleep. They may experience psychosomatic symptoms such as headaches and tummy aches.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Recovery from a disaster involves many things. Getting life back to as near normal as possible is the first concern. But as adults assess and take steps to recovery, children are often left out. That's where the church can be of greatest help. Here's what your church can do.

Train your staff. Before disaster strikes, ask a representative from the American Red Cross (check your phone book for a chapter near you) or a counselor to explain children's emotional needs in disaster situations. Help your volunteers understand that children will need a listening ear, understanding, affirmation, smiles, affection, reassurance, optimism, patience, and a normal routine.

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