The trauma of the bushfires: Supporting our children and young people in recovery.
As a very proud resident of the beautiful Southcoast NSW, I have seen first hand the horror, shock and mourning following the tragic bushfires this Summer. Our team at Shoalhaven Psychology have been assisting individuals and groups debrief and start the healing process over the shock and loss; and an important group not to be overlooked are our children and young people.
In terms of the “what now” following on from the initial shock and grief from the bushfires, what can we expect in terms of our children’s mental health?
Firstly, it’s important to mention that no matter our age, we can all have many different reactions following a traumatic event. Strong emotions like anger, sadness, fear, confusion, shock, numbness, grief and guilt. We can have difficulty sleeping, symptoms of depression and anxiety, our thoughts might be stuck and we might feel disconnected from our everyday life and those around us.
Children’s needs can be quite different from adults. Sometimes children seem very resilient (almost unemotional), and often things don’t seem to sink in until weeks or months later. Many children and young people may show some emotional and behavioural changes, such as:
- separation anxiety
- quicker to anger/ short fuse
- difficulty concentrating
- more fearful of things than usual
- sadness, more ‘teary’ than usual
- sleep problems
- “zoning out”
- issues at school
These are normal reactions to trauma and the feeling of not being safe. With time and the support of parents, family and friends, most children and young people will recover from the negative impacts of the bushfires without professional help. Some ways to help:
- Keep to routines – hobbies, activities, schooling, chores. This will help maintain a sense of normality and assist in feeling safe and secure
- If children want to open up, encourage discussions about how we feel (we are the best examples of doing this for our children)
- Do fun things together as a family unit
- Limit exposure to the bushfires (social media content, TV, radio).
If you feel that their mood and behaviour is not slowly returning to normal, seeking help is essential. The best pathway is to talk to your GP. They may refer your child to a psychologist or other mental health care worker who will assist and support you and your child through this difficult period.