CHENNAI: If you thought Chennai’s kids were relatively unaffected by the floods with a month off from school, think again. According to Parenting Matters, a group of certified parent educators, several parents have said that their kids have been “traumatized”. Kesang Menezes, a mother of two and one of the founders, says, “Often, the symptoms such as a child appearing withdrawn or onset of nightmares will be noticed only a few days after an incident like evacuation from their home.”
To help children get past this, the group has put together a guide of do’s and dont’s for both teachers and parents, which include a list of activities that enable children to draw out a ‘narrative’ of what they experienced. “Letting out their feelings kickstarts the healing process,” explains Kesang, who has been trained in child psychology by the LA Centre for Non-violent Parenting and Education.
With a goal to sensitise teachers first, the guide has been sent to a number of schools, including the Abacus Montessori School and Lady Andal Venkatasubba Rao Higher Secondary School. “The impact of watching a disaster unfurl affects little ones and teenagers quite differently,” points out Uma Shanker, a teacher-trainer at the Indian Montessori Training Courses Institute in RA Puram.
So it’s not surprising that Karthick (name changed), a resident of Velachery, recalls that his son sounded pretty excited when he was told that they were leaving in a boat. Everything seemed quite normal until two days later. “He woke up screaming his lungs out in the middle of the night. That’s when we realised something was wrong,” he says.
The irony, Uma points out, is that the trauma is shared even by kids whose homes were not flooded. “Watching extreme visuals on the news often creates subconscious fear and raises questions like, ‘Is this going to happen to me?’ and ‘What if my parents get washed away?’” she explains.
The best way to help the kids is to create a safe and reassuring environment for them to open up, say experts. “Even a small loss like a favourite toy should be acknowledged and not dismissed,” Kesang says. “The fear is that with little children, memories like these last for a long time. And if not handled properly, anything from a dark room to the sound of rain can trigger fear later in life.”
- Experts recommend a series of activities like storytelling, role-play and drawing to help children express their feelings about the disaster
- Though kids may not have been directly affected by floods, visuals of the deluge are enough to trigger a sense of fear. Some kids may also show a delayed response to their experience
Give Your Kids the Attention They Need
Ever imagined a doll could help you get an insight into your child’s mind? “I use play therapy as one of the primary tools to get children to express themselves, even if they can’t actually verbalise what’s going on,” explains psychotherapist Sayee Kumar. “So if you find your 5-year-old child throwing his/her doll on the ground, pay attention. It just might be their way of expressing anger or frustration for something that upset them when the flood hit.”
Experts in the arts suggest anything from drawing to story circles in the classroom to help the quieter children express their emotions. However, Eric Miller of the World Storytelling Institute in Nungambakkam, says, “In my experience, one of the most engaging activities for kids is to get them to role-play what they experienced.” While some may worry that this could open up old wounds, he assures us that with the right adult guidance this can in fact empower a child. Rather than focussing on the loss, Eric asks parents to encourage their kids to focus on how to cope. “There’s just something therapeutic about sharing,” he smiles.
When Will Daddy Come Back?
By 9.30 am, navy boats came. Me, my mom, my friend, his mom and his aunt went on the first boat. I was not scared during the ride. I felt very normal. I was very scared when my father and aunt didn’t join us. I kept asking my mother about him. I’m pretty sure I annoyed her a lot. My father came at 4 pm. I felt really relieved that he made it back safely. I couldn’t sleep well that night – G Prithvi Ram (11)