Saturday, May 7, 2011

The role of the disaster responder to protect children and assist in the development a sense of place

Joseph O. Prewitt Diaz

Children develop their sense of self and place in the world through their relationship to their parents. A child’s self esteem is built on the notion that, “I am of value as a person to the degree to which my parents take interest in me.” Children feel their parents’ interest in them by the amount of time spent with them. Many parents talk of quality time, but the best indicator of quality is quantity and consistency. These days when parents speak of quality, they really mean that they do not spend much time with their child, but when they do, they spoil them. This is not good for children. Rather, children need ample and regular attention from both parents in their normal living situations. Let’s face it, we only do spend time with people we value and children feel this.

When a parent is not active in a child’s life, the child may be emotionally crushed, feeling unworthy. As such, the child may no longer strive to succeed socially, academically and later, economically. Some children may even demonstrate these feelings of unworthiness through disruptive behaviour. Alternately, some children develop rich fantasy lives to protect themselves from feelings of worthlessness. They tell themselves their parent must be doing very important things otherwise they would surely be here. Such children grow up with unrealistic views of other people and relationships.

Many disaaser responders deal with parents that have been separated or lost their parents.   They feel the pain of the child whose heart may be broken and view them as dying the death of a thousand emotional cuts. They wonder what to tell the children to help them cope, recognizing the impact on their self-worth.

For the disaster responder in cahrge of children that have been separated from their parents this advice is suggested:

1.      Remain calm. Do not exhibit anger or frustration to the children, as this will only escalate their bad feelings. Rather, talk with the children about their feelings. It is appropriate to reassure them that they are loved. It is also appropriate to explain that the separation from their parents is a result of the disaster and not a reflection on the children. 

2.      Always have a back-up plan to structure your children’s time and a safe place for them to spend their time. This is not to say you spoil them with special attention to compensate for the period of separation or loss. Rather, children should not be left with nothing to do, otherwise they may wallow in their upset and get disruptive due to bad feelings. It is better that they learn to adapt and use their time constructively.

There is no way to fully protect children from disappointment in life. The key though is to keep the disappointment from being felt as a reflection of their worth. By helping children to understand the situation and making sure their time remains structured, you can ease the impact of the situation and teach them appropriate coping skills at the same time. This will equip the children to deal with other disappointments that life brings their way, so they can integrate the experience to their developmental process become more resilient and achieve well being.

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