You may find yourself feeling helpless about how to help your child, particularly if you feel overwhelmed yourself. Here are a few starting points to consider:
What could be going on?
If your children have seen the news or heard conversations about bushfires, they may be feeling helpless, sad or worried. If your children have experienced direct effects of the bushfires (e.g. evacuating from their home, seeing bushfires first-hand), they may also feel unsafe and uncertain. Take notice on any changes in behaviour, such as fear about sleeping alone, wanting to stay close to parents more than usual, nightmares, increase in tantrums, or withdrawal from play. Engage with a health professional if there has been drastic change in behaviour.
Every child may need something different
Everyone has a different way of coping with stress. Some children may want to share their concerns with you straight away whereas some may not. Don’t feel like you need to make your child talk about it, but reminding them that they can talk to you about anything they want anytime they would like, can be very helpful in this situation.
Explain the truth with age-appropriate language
You can ask your child how much they understand what is going on ("What do you think is happening?", and help to foster their understanding using different means such as drawing or story books. Some story books about difficult experiences or bushfires are ‘a terrible thing happened’ by Margaret Holmes, and ‘Bushfires’ by Marguerite Hann Syme.
Shift the focus to hope
Children may have seen pictures and videos that are scary to them. Showing pictures or news of people who are helping, such as donations, help from overseas, and volunteers, can help to alleviate some of the distress. You can also discuss ideas on how they can help, such as making craft items for animal rescue or participating in a fundraising.
Don’t forget to look after yourself
It is difficult to support others when you are overwhelmed yourself. Pay attention to your emotional state and what you need to feel supported, to help you to feel more confident in supporting others around you.
Although most children can recover from distressing experience over time, some children may experience ongoing distress, and those who have experienced the bushfire first-hand or have lost loved ones are more particularly at risk. Signs such as frequent, continual emotional outbursts, prolonged preoccupations with the bushfires, or severe anxiety can help to indicate the impact on their wellbeing.
We hope that you stay safe during this stressful time. Please reach out to your doctor or to a mental health professional if you need further support.
Natcha Limpianunchai is a provisional psychologist at Hopscotch & Harmony with a particular interest in Autism Spectrum Disorder and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. In order to help children develop communication skills, functional skills, and confidence in daily living, Natcha works closely with parents to set goals, discover a child’s strengths, and design strategies to support challenges.