Psyc431 Week 4 Forum Responses
Response to a disaster differs in children in a variety of ways. As has been discussed throughout the reading, a person’s reaction to catastrophe is often guided by their perception of what is happening.
As children cannot grasp the full context of a situation, their response can be either greater or lesser depending on how they receive the information that is being given to them. Additionally, as belief in survivability is crucial to psychological health, children can be impacted in a greater sense by their known fragility or inability to protect themselves.
Moreover, children lack the ability to discern between the emotions that they are feeling post-disaster. As a result, these children behave negatively as a result of not understanding these new emotions. This can lead to elongated recovery times and additional issues as a result. It is important for adults to intervene with a child and guide them along the process of recovery. Keeping in mind that perception is everything and patience is key. Even if the child was never in any real danger, it does not mean that they did not feel that way. Additionally, it is important to keep in mind that children that have pre-existing conditions are more apt to be affected by a disaster than those that do not. Often, issues compound, creating a greater impact on the young one.
One factor that can hinder a child’s recovery includes the reactions of those around them. If a mother is unable to cope or is displaying signs of stress, the child will absorb this; leading to exacerbated reactions. Therefore, it is absolutely crucial for those assisting with child recovery to display a warm and inviting atmosphere, helping the child to feel safe and change their perception of what has occurred. This can be facilitated using group atmospheres, getting the child back to a routine, and providing the child with serotonin producing activities such as play time.
After this week’s reading, one of the things that continued to make itself evident regarding disaster effects on children was their dependency on adults and social support systems. Children are obviously dependent upon us adults on a normal, daily basis for survival. But their dependency in a terror or disaster situation seems to be increased ten-fold. One of their first and most prominent reactions to these situations is to seek protection for trusted adults, noted in our reading as the attachment response. This is such a prominent response in young children that, “For as long as the attachment response is activated, children’s emotions, behaviors, and cognitions are likely to revolve around security seeking in general, and being reunited with loved ones more specifically”, which preoccupies most of their initial post-disaster attention (Teasley & Framingham, 2012, p. 144). It reminded me a lot of when my girls get scared; their first reaction is to come to me or my wife to “save” them from whatever sparked that fear, reinforcing that dependency.
I feel like that dependency plays a direct role as a significant factor in how the recovery process differs between children and typical adults. Much of the characteristics displayed by children following a traumatic event are dependent on things such as the mental health of the adult caregivers in their life, or how the adults close to them perceive and respond to the traumatic event. As Teasley and Framingham (2012) note, risk factors for children’s resilience and recovery include parent/family dynamics, overly protective parenting, and preexisting mental health issues in one or more of the parents (p. 145). This just shows that children are extremely malleable, as mentioned in this week’s lesson, and so much of how they react to terror or disaster situations is dependent on their immediate environment. Another significant factor is that the PTSD symptoms displayed by children following a disaster can mask preexisting mental health issues, making a diagnosis difficult. This can affect them later in life as issues are incorrectly attributed to the disaster and they never truly receive the help they need.
Teasley, M. L., & Framingham, J. L. (2012). Behavioral Health Response to Disasters. Boca Raton, Fla: CRC Press. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.apus.edu.ezproxy2.apus.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip&db=nlebk&AN=448580&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
The push for emergency preparedness in the United States also came with the realization that children and young adults are affected, too. In order to better assist national planning and recovery efforts, President Bush and Congress created the National Commission on Children and Disasters in 2007, committed to identify gaps in disaster planning, preparedness, response, and recovery for children (FEMA, 2017).
Children, younger ones especially, depend on family, caregivers, and authoritative figures such as spiritual leaders, teachers, or close family friends. Their first reaction during and after a disaster is to seek the support of these attachment figures, seeking assistance, comfort, and soothing; separation from family or caregivers takes a strong emotional toll on a child, not allowing them to fully adapt or be resilient until they are reunited (Teasley & Framingham, 2012). This is why although providing a safe place with shelter, food and supplies is important, family reunification is equally (or arguably more) important. After reunifying a family (if possible), the next important step is to return the child to a sense of normalcy. This can be easier said than done, depending on the severity of the incident and the distraction, non-resiliency, or lack of coping skills of the adult parent or caretaker. The more attention a parent can give to a child to restore relief, social connections, and a normal set of goals and behaviors, the more likely the child will have less disruptive emotional, behavior, and cognitive reactions (Teasley & Framingham, 2012). A big contributor to the adaptability of the child lies with the strength, resiliency, and adaptability of the adult; if the child is exposed to poor coping skills (for example, expressed stress, anxiety, anger, or substance abuse) of their adult figure, they are likely to internalize and mirror those skills, developing negative emotional and behavior reactions.
With adults, the main goal is for safety, security, access to food, shelter, and supplies. After these basic needs are met, focus can shift to psychological first aid and more individualized help in dealing with the mental anguish that comes from a disaster. Children need psychological assistance sooner. To assist children post-disaster, information should be spread regarding the importance of the actions of the adult. If adults realize that their actions and words after a disaster can impact their child for years or decades to come, this might help overall disaster recovery for children. One factor that can contribute to the recovery process is the engagement in social interaction, through group therapy or other interface means. This can help adults, too, but can be arguably more important for developing children. The Psychological First Aid guide states that practical assistance is beneficial to both adults and children; both have needs and concerns that need to be addressed and can benefit with making a plan (VA, 2006).
Department of Veteran Affairs (VA). (2006). Psychological First Aid, 2nd Edition. Retrieved from https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/treat/type/PFA/PFA_2ndEditionwithappendices.pdf
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). (2017). Children and Disasters. Retrieved from https://www.fema.gov/children-and-disasters
Teasley, M. L., & Framingham, J. L. (2012). Behavioral Health Response to Disasters. Boca Raton, Fla: CRC Press. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.apus.edu.ezproxy1.apus.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip&db=nlebk&AN=448580&site=ehost-live&scope=site