Natural calamities are part of our lives. Especially in developing countries like ours which lack resources to detect impending natural disasters accurately and timely, we are more often than not caught unprepared.
In the Philippines, we have gone through tragedies brought about by super typhoons, volcano eruption, mudflows. Catastrophes like these may create negative impact, especially to children’s thinking and behavior.
According to a UNICEF resource guide, teachers, like you, play three (3) important roles during and after calamities:
Take care of yourselves first:
As a teacher, understand first your own response to the disaster. Only then can you take on the responsibility of helping your students and their parents cope with the situation.
Facilitate and lead:
You should take the lead in creating awareness, disseminating information and guiding or assisting them in implementing course of actions.
Create a network of support:
Form a support group among fellow teachers and community members to create a way to leverage strength, assistance and arrive at practical solutions for dealing with the disaster.
Below are some specific steps to guide you when dealing with distressed children:
1. Do not give false hope - Do not give false hope by telling them the tragedy will not happen again. Instead, just reassure them that the disaster was not their fault in any way.
2. Talk to children in a language that they will understand - Give simple, clear and short explanations. Vague explanations will only create more anxiety to them.
3. Check children’s understanding - Find out what they are thinking and feeling. Engage them in activities where they can express themselves better like in games, letter writing, or drawing.
4. Create one-on-one discussions - Know more about their thoughts and feelings by complementing group activities with one-on-one discussions. This is also a good venue to clarify any of their confusion or misunderstanding.
5. Teach them safety tips - Orient children on basic, key steps they need to follow in times of any disaster, so they can be more prepared in case another tragedy strikes.
6. Create positive, regular activities - Have the children participate in regular activities to hasten their recovery process.
7. Be more attentive on how children behave - Some children live in a state of shock or denial and real feelings only surface after some time. Be more attuned to them so you can help them cope better.
For more details and materials on how you, as a teacher, can help children cope with tragedies brought about by natural disasters, download UNICEF’s Life Has Changed: Teachers Guide at http://www.unicef.org/rosa/Life_has_changed_Teachers_guide.pdf