Washington, D.C., October 24, 2007 - The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry offers online resources for families affected by the California wildfires. In addition, reporters are welcome to attend scientific programs on the impact of trauma and disaster at the A\ACAP 54th Annual Meeting, being held now in Boston, Massachusetts.
Contact: Erin Baker, Communications Director
202.966.7300, Ext. 119
AACAP's disaster resources were created for families coping with loss and grief, and for those seeking to foster a dialogue with their children about regional and national news events. They are a starting point in addressing the emotional trauma that often affects victims of natural disasters and other events.
The AACAP's Facts for Families series is among the most widely referenced series on childhood emotional and behavioral issues in the world. The series was created by child and adolescent psychiatrists: physicians who have completed at least 3 years of approved residency training in medicine, neurology, and general psychiatry with adults, and 2 years of training in psychiatric work with children, adolescents, and their families.
Among AACAP's Facts for Families:
- Children and Grief
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
- Helping Children After a Disaster
- Children and the News
In addition, Dr. David Fassler, a child and adolescent psychiatrist practicing in Burlington, Vermont and a Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Vermont wrote the following tips: Talking to Children About Wildfires and Other Natural Disasters.
1. Create an open and supportive environment where children know they can ask questions. At the same time, it's best not to force children to talk about things unless and until they're ready.
2. Give children honest answers and information. Children will usually know, or eventually find out, if you're "making things up." It may affect their ability to trust you or your reassurances in the future.
3. Use words and concepts children can understand. Gear your explanations to the child's age, language, and developmental level.
4. Be prepared to repeat information and explanations several times. Some information may be hard to accept or understand. Asking the same question over and over may also be a way for a child to ask for reassurance.
5. Acknowledge and validate the child's thoughts, feelings, and reactions. Let them know that you think their questions and concerns are important and appropriate.
6. Remember that children tend to personalize situations. For example, they may worry about their own safety and the safety of immediate family members. They may also worry about friends or relatives who travel or who live far away.
7. Be reassuring, but don't make unrealistic promises. It's fine to let children know that they are safe in their house or in their school. But you can't promise that there won't be another fire or other natural disaster.
8. Help children find ways to express themselves. Some children may not want to talk about their thoughts, feelings, or fears. They may be more comfortable drawing pictures, playing with toys, or writing stories or poems.
9. Let children know that lots of people are helping the families affected by the fires. It's a good opportunity to show children that when something scary happens, there are people to help.
10. Children learn from watching their parents and teachers. They will be very interested in how you respond to world events. They also learn from listening to your conversations with other adults.
11. Don't let children watch too much television with frightening images. The repetition of such scenes can be disturbing and confusing.
12. Children who have experienced trauma or losses in the past are particularly vulnerable to prolonged or intense reactions to news or images of natural disasters. These children may need extra support and attention.
13. Monitor for physical symptoms including headaches and stomachaches. Many children express anxiety through physical aches and pains. An increase in such symptoms without apparent medical cause may be a sign that a child is feeling anxious or overwhelmed.
14. Children who are preoccupied with questions or concerns about fires or other natural disasters should be evaluated by a trained and qualified mental health professional. Other signs that a child may need additional help include: ongoing sleep disturbances, intrusive thoughts or worries, recurring fears about death, leaving parents or going to school. If these behaviors persist, ask your child's pediatrician, family physician or school counselor to help arrange an appropriate referral.
15. Although parents and teachers may follow the news and the daily events with close scrutiny, many children just want to be children. They'd rather play ball, climb trees, or spend time with their friends.
Wildfires and other natural disasters are not easy for anyone to comprehend or accept. Understandably, many young children feel frightened and confused. As parents, teachers and caring adults, we can best help by listening and responding in an honest, consistent and supportive manner. Fortunately, most children, even those exposed to trauma, are quite resilient. However, by creating an open environment where they feel free to ask questions, we can help them cope with stressful events and experiences, and reduce the risk of lasting emotional difficulty.
Representing over 7,500 child and adolescent psychiatrists nationwide, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) is the leading authority on children’s mental health. AACAP members actively research, diagnose, and treat psychiatric disorders affecting children, adolescents, and their families.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) is the leading authority on children’s mental health. AACAP members actively research, diagnose, and treat psychiatric disorders affecting children, adolescents, and their families.
Our Facts for Families, available free of charge on the AACAP website, provide concise and up-to-date information on a wide array of issues relating to children’s mental health. Written in a simple, straightforward manner, these 88 one-page fact sheets are valuable to anyone raising or working with children. In addition, the AACAP routinely refers the media to expert spokespeople on child and adolescent issues, and sponsors The Campaign for America’s Kids – an initiative designed to fund an Advocacy Institute for Child and Adolescent Mental Health, with the goal of mental health for all children.
AACAP Mission: The Mission of the AACAP is the promotion of mentally healthy children, adolescents and families through research, training, advocacy, prevention, comprehensive diagnosis and treatment, peer support and collaboration.