The current bushfires across Australia have raised anxieties for all Australians about how we will cope, what our lives will look like in the future, and what will happen if they reach us. Smoke from the bushfires has stretched across Victoria, and this in itself is enough to raise the fears of children who have already been over-exposed to information in the media. Media stories have contained graphic, scary and disturbing images of houses, animals and people affected by the fires, and this can cause distress or worry for children and adolescent.
There is a common misconception that talking with your child may make a trauma or crisis worse, however research suggests that it usually has the opposite effect. For children, not having information is scary, and many children will fill in the blanks with their own imagination – often imagining something far worse than the truth. For older children, they make take to the internet for their answers, and this can sometimes become overwhelming.
How can parents help?
- take notice when your child is feeling sad, frightened, angry or upset, and help them to name these emotions. Reassure them that these feelings are normal in the situation, and help them to label where in their body they may be feeling the emotions
- encourage your child to talk about what’s troubling them, and listen and show you understand how they are feeling
- if your child brings up the bushfires or smoke, find out what they know. Answer questions honestly and with solid information about how the fires directly affect your child at this point in time
- for older children, show them maps and help to develop fire readiness skills or a plan with them (even if you think it is unlikely). This will help them feel in control and prepared
- help children to contribute to the relief efforts if you think this is a value that they hold dearly. Help them to donate time or money and to identify a cause that hits home for them.This will help them to feel less helpless, and in control. Many children are particularly affected by reports of the deaths of animals, so allowing them to create pouches or help in some other way can relieve distress
- encourage your children to engage in things that help them to feel better – connect to their community, do something physical, play with friends, or do something kind for someone else
- make sure you look after yourself. If you are feeling low, and are struggling to manage your own emotions around your children, it can be difficult to not take it out on them sometimes. If you are constantly bursting into tears or have lost your temper, talk to them about this. Help them understand why this is happened (in terms of an overload of feelings or a reaction to a loss but avoiding burdening children with adult anxieties about decisions to be made), and engage in activities together that will make you both feel calm
For information on how to support directly affected children through bushfires please click here.