Updated: Feb 1
In addition to the Aussie fire crisis our kids may also be being exposed to a media storm of epic proportions. And why can this be an issue for children?
As just one example: I can remember how terrified a well-adjusted and happy little boy named 'Jim' became, for what appeared to be, no apparent reason. Jim knew us, had settled well. Yet when his mum was ready to leave for work, he became absolutely frantic. I was deeply concerned by the change, because it was marked.
I sat with him and played. And while we played he chatted.
I didn't probe. I just let the conversation evolve and progress around the issue. When I eventually asked him if something had happened to make him sad he was surprised. It turned out he was really happy at preschool. But he didn't want his mum to go to work.
His exact words were "...because mum works in a high building. And planes fly into high buildings.'
I was stunned. And for the first time I saw the horror of 9/11 through a child's eyes.
How many times were children exposed to images of planes flying into tall buildings. Likely twenty, thirty, fifty, maybe a hundred. Over years, maybe even more.
I recall in just one news broadcast, the same disturbing footage being shown repeatedly from different angles: many promos, multiple images & repeated recaps.
Yet again, Australian children are being exposed to repeated trauma, vicariously. But this time it's much closer to home: The Australian bush fire crisis. Children watch their parent's faces fill with concern, as they listen to yet another T.V. update.
Australia is burning. It's been on every news channel since late September. And again I wonder just how many traumatic images Australian children have been exposed to.
They may have seen or heard about: koalas being burnt and trying to escape, someone's dad dying while fighting a fire, midday looking like midnight, a funeral of another dad who died fighting a fire, exploding gas tanks, upturned fire trucks, streets of shops turned to blackened skeletons and twisted metal, volleys of embers hurled towards firefighters, fire tornadoes, people crying night after night after night after they've lost their homes to fire. And walls and walls and walls of flames and black billowing smoke that blocks out the sun.
It's distressing for many adults to watch. Many of our elderly are frightened. And I really hope parents limit their children's exposure to some of the disturbing coverage being aired at the moment. And take the time to reassure their children.
Something to consider is, children who watch these broadcasts know they have little or no ability to do anything to stop the fires. As a result they can feel scared. Powerless. And sadly, even anxious. Children can tell their parents are worried.
But based on what I did last time, (with the children who were concerned by 9/11,) I found it's possible to help them feel less empowered and still feel hope.
I began by talking to the whole school assembly and explained that regardless of what happens in life we have the capacity to work within our own circle of influence to make it better. We discussed the concept of paying it forward and doing something good and not expecting anything in return.
For example: Most of the children knew there had been some bad people who flew planes into buildings. But I explained that children had their own power, not to be like them. They could choose instead to be be kind, thoughtful and helpful. We talked about the things all of us could do to make our world a better place. Kids embraced the concept. Many told me about their good deeds over months. Some of the classes recorded their kind acts.
And through this, the children felt a little more positive and less powerless. They focused on what they could do, one small act at a time, to make things better again.
Is it possible, by embracing kindness and doing something active about it, this could also help our children deal with this bush fire crisis without feeling overwhelmed?
Initially children could:
give pocket money to welfare agencies and animal welfare agencies
help at a charity distribution centre. Even young children like to help sort items
write a letter of thanks to their local fire fighters, police, ambulance personnel
turn off electrical appliances they're not using (such as the T.V.) so more power is available, because the system could be under stress
And I'm sure you have many more ideas.
But long term children might choose to address some of the climate change issues which are bothering many of them: They could:
start a bottle drive, and donate the money from recycled bottles to the RFS
use refillable drink bottles to take their own water rather than buying bottled drinks
be the person to remember the reusable bags at the supermarket rather than buying new ones
not use straws
give some of their good quality toys they've outgrown to charity, rather than leave them unused
(if they're with you,) they could pick up pieces of plastic they find in the environment e.g. while walking along the beach, or through the park, etc NOTE: You will need to educate your child about the dangers of glass, needles and other unsafe items and supervise them to ensure their safety
contact their local sustainable neighbourhood group to see if they might create an awareness campaign in their community
walk to school rather than drive, or alternatively use public transport instead of the family vehicle
create a dialogue with you about what your family is actively doing to help prevent climate change and to help look after our earth
recycle things they use (lunch packaging, gift packaging, etc)
You'll likely be able to think of many other things your child can do to make them feel more hopeful and in control of their future again.
Perhaps it may have a bigger positive impact, if they see those they respect (their parents, teachers, coaches, etc) leading by example. This disaster needs all Australians to work together. All we can do as individuals, is work within our own circles of influence. And encourage others to do the same.
It's often not until some time later, when a child starts to exhibit depression, or anxiety symptoms, that the cumulative effect of stress may be realized. My hope is to make you aware of what can be going on, so you can inspire hope. This in turn may prevent your child feeling less empowered about their future.
You might like to check out Setting Up Teenagers to Succeed. Just click on the image of the boy on the skateboard. It's worth a look.
Disclaimer: Jim is not the real name of the student concerned. All views and advice are written from the perspective of what worked for me. This does not mean that it will necessarily work for you or your children. If you have concerns about your child experiencing levels of depression or anxiety consult your medical practitioner.