The Family Project: Puerto Rico earthquakes rattle children
Q. My family in Puerto Rico has been badly affected by the earthquakes. Their houses were destroyed. My children ages 5, 7 and 9, are upset, have trouble sleeping and are hard to get ready for school. What can we do to assure them that they are safe here?
The panel agreed that the reaction of the adults to the situation influences the children’s responses.
“How the parents react is important,” panelist Chad Stefanyak said. “In a child’s mind, mom and dad are the experts. If mom is crying, it must be really bad.”
“When children see things on television or hear people talking, it is very natural for them to think it could happen here,” panelist Denise Continenza said.
“We need to put it in perspective for them. It happened there, but it is a long way away,” said Continenza.
Panelist Pam Wallace said parents need some control so their children don’t see and hear everything: “Don’t subject them to seeing their aunt crying. It just adds to the trauma they are already feeling.”
Wallace also urged the parents to reassure the children by telling them what is being done to help the extended family.
“The kids are scared because they don’t have information,” panelist Mike Daniels observed.
“It is very important for the family to sit down together and talk about what everyone knows and feels. The parents need to answer the children’s questions, but only answer the questions. Don’t go into a lot of detail,” said Daniels.
Panelist Mike Ramsey said it’s OK to discuss being afraid, and to talk about what you do when you are afraid of things: “This reminds me of the discussions we had after 9/11. You are not going to go into a lecture on terrorism with a five-year-old, but one of the things that makes this situation scary for the kids is that it is out of their control.”
Ramsey suggested finding activities for the children that give the illusion that they can help: “Maybe you could put together a care package or write a card or letter.”
One of the panelists suggested making a safety plan. Daniels said he thought that this was a good idea because it demonstrates the ability to prepare and control bad situations.
“Make it an education activity. You can’t protect our children from everything, but you can be prepared,” Wallace said.
This week’s team of parenting experts are: Pam Wallace, program coordinator, Project Child, a program of Valley Youth House; Denise Continenza, extension educator; Mike Ramsey, program supervisor, Valley Youth House; Mike Daniels, LCSW, Psychotherapist; Chad Stefanyak, school counselor, and Wanda Mercado-Arroyo, educator and former school administrator.
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The Family Project is a collaboration of the Lehigh Valley Press Focus section and Valley Youth House’s Project Child.
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