Being involved with children in the affected area

For supporters

1)When school teachers are involved with a child who has experienced loss


The most important thing for children who have experienced a disaster is to regain a usual daily life as early as possible. Establishing an environment for ordinary school days helps children regain a sense of security. In addition, teachers’ considerations at school can be a great help in restoring well-being for children and their parents. Special

consideration is required when a child has lost his/her parent or sibling or is forced to live apart from his/her parents.


2)Changes in children’s minds and behavior after experiencing loss in a disaster


Children’s behavior after a disaster vary due to age and from individual to individual. These include being startled at the slightest noise, crying at night, being selfish and emotionally dependent, not being able to stay calm, having difficulty concentrating, decreased schoolwork proficiency, having difficulty fitting in a group, and showing physical symptoms such as asthma and allergies. Do not assume they come from temperament, but take these signs seriously. Scolding and attempted persuasion are often counterproductive.


When a child loses a parent or sibling, they usually express their grief differently than adults. While some children may continuously cry, others may become mischievous or act as if nothing happened. Often, children think they have lost a loving family member because they were bad or of their own fault. In any case, acknowledge the way they grieve and respect each child’s presence. Also, try to understand that there are feelings that cannot be expressed in words, and communicate with children in a way that gives them a sense of safety.


Grieving usually lasts much longer than we expect. Even though their lives settle down as they get used to their new school and are seemingly well, children never forget about the disaster, the place they grew up, the people they lost, their dearest friends and teachers, and the difficult condition their families face. The sadness in their hearts never goes away.

Even years after the incident, some children start feeling they are somewhat different than their friends, being spooked by the slightest tremor or darkness, or feeling uneasy at the sound of an ambulance or fire trucks. It is necessary to provide long-term mental health care for affected children.



3)Points to keep in mind when supporting children


In some cases, children may seem fine but cannot talk about their feeling with their parents and surrounding people. They may be anxious, afraid, or strongly blaming themselves. Teachers should try to talk to those children whenever possible. When needed, repeatedly tell them “If you are worried about something, come and talk to me anytime,” “You are not responsible for what happened,” “You can talk about difficult things,” “You don’t have to be embarrassed by not being able to do this,” and so on.


Be interested in children’s words and their emotions. Also, don’t rush them during conversations. It is meaningful for those children to express their feeling. However, do not try to force children to talk about subjects they want to avoid.


If children are not feeling well physically or mentally or showing problematic behavior, talk to them using simple words such as, “When a person experiences something like this, anybody can become uneasy.


There is no need to actively avoid talking about earthquakes and people who died just because you are afraid of causing emotional trauma. Children usually feel more at ease if these subjects come up in the natural flow of conversations. Always try to answer any questions children ask you politely. If there are questions that you cannot answer, be honest and tell them, “I don’t know the answer.” When adults are always honest with children, they will gradually understand the meaning of the event.


Children may suddenly start to cry when remembering earthquakes and family members, or even when nothing is happening. In that time, try to make them feel they are not alone by rubbing their backs or hold their shoulders. This kind of attitude by teachers can help other children to foster compassion.


It is common for children who experienced disasters to take things out on objects and other people. They may engage in playing “earthquake” or “tsunami” which may be considered inappropriate to grownups. This is another sign of feelings that they cannot express in words.  But at the same time, it is necessary for them to express their feeling. However, if they engage in impulsive behavior that is dangerous to others, stop them immediately. Tell them about the minimum rules and safe practices and act within the safety framework. Teachers also need to watch over those children.


If there are counselors or social workers assigned to the school you work, it is also important to work with them.


4)Believe in children’s resilience


No matter how great the trauma, children are more resilient than adults when they have enough support from others. Never lie to children. Also, do not make promises that you cannot keep. Watch the process of children accepting reality little by little as the adults around them support the children in cooperation.


In the event of a major disaster like the Great East Japan Earthquake, don’t urge children to forget or overcome the event. Also, don’t be impatient and try to help them at too early of a point. It’s important that children learn little by little at their own pace to understand people can live with hope even when an incident out of their control occurs.


*Referenced from Daggy Center (USA) [ed.] (2005). “35 Ways to Support a Child Who Lost an Important Person, Pear Tree House”.

Linda Espy [Author], Kaori Shimo Inaba [Translation]. “Our teachers are children! -A book to support children’s grief”, Aomisha.