7 Ways to Help Children Traumatized by the Midwood Fire
Note: The professionals at Project CHAI, Chai Lifeline’s crisis intervention and bereavement division are available to answer questions and provide personalized assistance to parents, educators, and community leaders following this weekend’s tragic fire in Midwood, Brooklyn. Please call 855-3-CRISIS or email CRISIS@CHAILIFELINE.ORG. Rabbi Sruli Fried, MSW, has prepared this video presentation: Speaking To Your Children About the Midwood Fire
The Jewish community of Midwood, Brooklyn, one of New York’s five boroughs and home to one of the largest Jewish communities outside Israel, was rocked by the devastating fire that killed seven siblings, ages 5 to 16, and left a mother and surviving daughter in critical condition.
Within minutes after the Sabbath ended, Chai Lifeline’s crisis hotline lit up with phone calls from concerned parents who needed assistance talking to their children about the tragedy. Project CHAI’S professionals, all therapists with training and experience in responding to traumatic situations, offer the following suggestions for parents, educators, and community leaders:
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- Be attentive to your child’s behaviors that may signal distress. An event like the recent fire can trigger reactions in the immediate aftermath and for the next several weeks. These behaviors are normal after a traumatic event, and are the child’s way of coping with the trauma. Some children will be able to verbalize their fears right away. Others may experience nightmares, difficulty falling asleep, a reluctance to separate from parents, or a terror of ordinary fire, among other responses.
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- Be aware of your own reactions to the event. Children work out how to react to a situation by watching the significant adults around them, particularly parents and teachers. Try, if at all possible, to behave in a calm and controlled manner.
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- Be prepared to speak about the event with your child. Your child may want to speak about the event at great length, or may prefer not to talk about it at all. Feel free to ask questions, but do not force your child to speak if he or she does not want to. If the child wants to talk about feelings, be supportive and encouraging. Show your understanding and acceptance of these feelings by explaining that feelings such as fear, anger and guilt are all normal reactions to such an “abnormal” event.
- Encourage alternatives to talking. Drawing, writing, drama and music are all wonderful creative outlets that can be introduced to help children share their experiences.
- Try to maintain a normal routine, and provide children with reassuring and realistic messages about their safety. Talk about what steps you have implemented in the home to ensure safety, and to prevent fires in the future. This will strengthen the children’s sense of safety and control.
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- The single most important resource for children after exposure is the network of adults in their lives. Most children will recover from exposure to trauma with the aid of those close to them, including parents and teachers.
- Don’t hesitate to call a professional if your child’s behavior or feelings seem extreme or if they persist after a month. The Project CHAI hotline, 855-3-CRISIS, is staffed by therapists who are trained in helping families cope with the aftermath of traumatic events. Emails to CRISIS@CHAILIFELINE.ORG receive immediate responses.