In the aftermath of a calamity, there are appropriate ways of supporting children and their needs, which ought to be planned in advance and discussed with the school staff. Additionally, school counseling interventions need to be timely and well focused. We present here various suggestions for helping school children that are derived largely from the psychological and counseling literature (e.g., American Red Cross, 2001; Lynn & Nisivoccia, 2001; New York Office of Mental Health, 2001; Nordboe, 2000).
Recommendations for the implementation of classroom guidance and counseling interventions.
Encourage open communication. Within the content of comprehensive school counseling programs (Campbell & Dahir, 1997), large group guidance activities should first encourage children to discuss their experiences and feelings about the event. Young people need to be able to identify and express verbally their full range of feelings (Nordboe, 2000). By venting their negative emotions, children are more likely to distance themselves psychologically from their pain. In fact, if children hear each other speak of their feelings, anxious though they are, even younger ones may feel relieved (Blaufarb & Levine, 1972). Similarly, counselors should have children recognize and elicit their positive feelings. For instance, children might feel relieved to find the school day changed. Certain students will naturally be quite vulnerable and others will provide little indication of an emotional reaction. For younger students who are timid, counselors can assist them to verbalize their thoughts and emotions, for example, through puppets chosen by the children. Counselors should also model emotional openness as well. In short, teaching students to accept their own and respect others' emotions seems to not only facilitate the recovery process, but also is an integral part of emotional education (e.g., Saarni, 1999).
Use open questions to clarify children's thoughts and feelings. To further enhance classroom dialogue, counselors frequently ask general to specific how, what, and where questions. This method can help children clarify their thoughts and beliefs (Arata & Picou, 2000). A sample “where” question could be: Where were you, your family, and your friends when the event happened? The “what” questions might consist of: What did you see and hear? What were you (and other people or animals) doing? What were you thinking about then? After that, what did you do? What changed? What dreams did (or are) you have (having)? Suggested “how” questions are: How did you feel then, and now? How did you get through rough times? How did you help others? Next time something like this occurs, how might you help in a different way?
Provide relevant and truthful information about the disaster. Because school-age children are more likely to be interested in the forces behind various disasters (Brooks & Siegel, 1996), providing accurate information for them can be extremely helpful and healing (Nordboe, 2000). As such, counselors, through the use of classroom guidance, should attempt to dispel inaccuracies and rumors about the disaster through the judicious use of scientific knowledge. If at all practical, school counselors should collaboratively develop classroom activities with teachers who possess expertise. Activities could include Internet searches, library research, and listening to expert guest speakers. Depending on the age of the pupils and the nature of the disaster, pose questions which can be followed up with project-based learning activities.
Decrease confusion through exploring the societal responses to the disaster. Related to the previous suggestion, learning about how others in the community respond to the upsetting event provides children an alternative channel to release their feelings of isolation and confusion. Counselors can collaborate with those teachers who have expertise in social studies. Students can clip articles, photos, and cartoons from newspapers and magazines or take photographs about the disaster and its aftermath (Arata & Picou, 2000; Mark & Layton, 1997). Articles discussing the impact of the event can be read aloud. Selected items with their captions can also be glued on colored paper to make school or classroom posters.
Allow children opportunities to mourn the loss of significant others and pets. Children, especially those who are touched by death of their loved ones and pets, need to learn that grief is not shameful, but rather, a natural human process. To help them work through their pain, school counselors can work with art, music, and language arts teachers. Moreover, because children with strong social support are more likely to cope more effectively with life stressors than those without such assistance (Compas & Epping, 1993; Prinstein et al., 1996; Vernherg, La Greca, Silverman, & Prinstein, 1996), group or classroom instruction should include cooperative learning activities (Garmston & Wellman, 1999) as well as opportunities for role playing and learning in dyads and triads (Joyce, Weil, & Calhoun, 2000. Activities, for example, to deal with loss after a disaster, include (a) writing memoirs, poems, and articles about people and pots; (b) letter or journal writing for saying good-bye; (c) creating portraits, collages, and memorial sculptures of people and pets, and (d) drawing collective murals or presenting a music drama (Arata & Picou, 2000; Mark & Layton, 1997; Nordboe, 2000; Oaklander, 1978; Shen, 2000).
Provide children opportunities to mount the loss of toys, collections, and familiar environments. Since school-age children are developing their sense of ownership, the loss of personal belongings can be especially difficult for them (Brooks & Siegel, 1996). The activities suggested above can also be used with children who have lost their toys and other personal things. For children whose families have been evacuated from their home or become homeless, the activities can help young people, grieve the loss of familiar surrounding and a safe place. It should be noted that debriefing is a key to healing after the students complete their writing, painting, or sculptures in the class. Encouraging them to tell stories and share their feelings and concerns about the people or things they are mourning often helps children become more accepting of reality and return to their normal lives (Wolfelt, 1990).
Encourage the positive side of humanity. After providing children opportunities for venting and grieving, school counselors need to assist children see the “positive” elements emerging from the tragedy (Mark & Layton, 1997; Nordboe, 2000). One activity that can be useful is the discovery of “disaster heroes” (Nordboe). Discussing these people can help children focus on how others overcame negative feelings and regained a sense of safety and security. The hero can be a person who has acted courageously by helping others in the midst of or after the disaster. Heroes need not be well known, but must be individuals whose behavior is highly esteemed by the child—a family member or a neighbor will do.
Increase awareness of the potential, negative after-effects of severe disasters. It is important to discuss with children potential dangerous situations and how to avoid them. The issues may include domestic violence, substance abuse, and child abuse. School counselors can help children gain a clearer picture of the interpersonal relationships at home. Children need to understand that they may not be the cause of their parents' sour moods, but may be the target to which the bad moods are directed. By addressing this issue, counselors may well reduce children's guilt and self-blame. The telephone numbers of crisis hot lines should be readily accessible.
Assist children to prepare a personal safety plan. It is vital that school counselors help children and their families develop and practice a safety plan. In this way, the next time a disaster strikes, they will feel less fearful and more in control (Mark & Layton, 1997; Southern California Earthquake Center, 2000). To prepare for aftershocks, for example, ask children to walk through the rooms at home and look for things that could fall when shaken and try to secure them. Classroom game playing and visiting disaster preparedness Web sites (e.g., http://www.ag.uiuc.edu/~disaster/prep.html) are excellent ways to actively involve children in the planning process. Moreover, encourage parents or guardians to help children to create a personal emergency kit. Things like a first-aid kit, bottled water, protein bars, a flashlight with extra batteries, a change of clothes, and favorite playthings will make the emergency kit a valuable companion (see, the Web site, http://www.disasterrelief.org/ Library/Prepare/supplies.html, for additional suggestions).
Identify those children who need additional intervention. Counselors need to identify those children who may require small group or individual counseling. Because psychological adjustment reflects individual differences, both the degree of emotionality and physical manifestations of stress are important clues to recognize. Counselors should be aware of the potential symptoms we discussed. To effectively screen high-risk students, counselors may adapt the short Children's Mental Health Checklist (Gordon et al., 1999). One can also use play therapy to assess children's emotional reactions to disasters (Schmidt, 2001).
Play interventions for small group and individual counseling. Applying play techniques in educational settings has been long encouraged by researchers (Drewes, Carey, & Schaefer, 2001; Landreth, Homeyer, Bratton, Kale, & Hilpl, 2000; Shen, 1998). Given that young children's verbal efficacy emerges slowly, play remains their primary language (e.g., Vygotsky, 1986). The use of play and art has been recommended for traumatized elementary-age children (e.g., Drewes, 2001; Klingman, 1993). For example, research conducted in the United States (Hofmann & Rogers, 1991; Roje, 1995), Italy (Galante & Foa, 1986), and Taiwan (Shen, in press) has shown that children's fears developed after a major earthquake can be reduced by play interventions. School counselors can subtly reduce children's resistance to change by infusing play techniques into their interventions. In setting up the room for play and art work, we recommend counselors at least obtain these tools: (a) “real life” toys (e.g., a house with furniture, a sand tray, miniature figures, kitchen set with food, two telephones, a doctor kit, a cash register with money, stuffed animals, ambulances, police cars, airplanes); (b) energy releasing and stress reducing materials (e.g., a rope, pillows, squishy balls); and (c) creative expression materials (e.g., materials for making arts and crafts, a chalkboard or white board, musical instruments, dress up costumes). Counselors may also want to utilize in developmentally appropriate ways these items and strategies: coloring and bibliotherapeutic books, puppets, board and card games, clay, water, dolls and action figures, family figures, scribble games, storytelling, drawings, dramatic play, expressive movement, and role playing (e.g., Drewes et al., 2001). Although a technical-eclectic approach to play therapy has been recommended by some writers (e.g., Norcross & Prochaska, 1988; Schaefer, 1994) to facilitate the recovery process of hurting children, we recommend several helping strategies that are theoretically based, including Gestalt and Rogerian child-centered approaches (Muro & Kottman, 1995; Shen, 1998). The less intrusive Rogerian method, for instance, can be modified for school-based play intervention. This approach tends to work well with elementary-age children who are having problems coping with the traumatic reminders or events. For children who seem to be less emotionally harmed and ready to process the painful event, the more directive Gestalt approach is perhaps a good option (see Oaklander, 1978). Specific child-centered play techniques are discussed in various sources (e.g., Axline, 1947; Landreth, 1991; Post, 2001). The case study presented below illustrates how an elementary school counselor worked effectively with a traumatized youngster after a disaster.
- Yih-Jiun Shen; Sink, Christopher A.; Helping Elementary-Age Children Cope with Disasters; Professional School Counseling, Jun2002, Vol. 5 Issue 5, p322
The article above contains foundational information. Articles below contain optional updates.
Reflection Exercise #10
The preceding section contained information
regarding school-based interventions for children traumatized by terrorism and disaster. Write
three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section
in your practice.
According to Yih-Jiun Shen, what is the benefit of using the ‘disaster heroes’ activity? Record the letter of the correct answer