Play Methods to Help Children Understand Trauma And Disaster

October 29, 2012 Published by

Have you noticed how children play out disaster situations like Hurricane Sandy in their play? Understanding how and why children do this can help us react appropriately and use the play opportunity to develop skills such as empathy and understanding in our children.

Children who are getting their teddies, dolls, action figures or Playmobil out and pretending that the toys are drowning or being swept away are not being macabre or insensitive. They are trying to make sense of things that they have seen and heard but aren’t fully able to comprehend. Play is what children do to work out situations. So rather than reacting with horror at children’s apparent insensitivity, we need to help them understand trauma and disaster as well as the situation they are playing out and use it as an opportunity for development of some really important skills.

If this is not dealt with sensitively, children can become anxious and afraid that the crisis will affect them, or they can go to the other extreme and become insensitive and fascinated with disaster and suffering.

So when children use a play scenario that relates to traumatic events, join in and talk to them. Let the children lead the play and ask them what they think the toys are feeling and what they would be feeling themselves in that situation. Talk to them about what help they would need and who they’d want to provide it. You can also talk to children about what they can to to prevent or prepare for disasters. Make sure they understand the facts of the situation – e.g. that it’s not happening in the UK but is somewhere a long way away, and try to answer questions simply and honestly to avoid unnecessary anxiety. You can also talk to children about what you can do to help those who are suffering from a disaster.

Using play and toys to help children increase their understanding of the world gives them an improved sense of perspective and confidence, and talking to them about feelings promotes empathy and compassion – and in a time of disaster we can all use a bit more of those!



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This post was written by Dr Amanda Gummer

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