Children emotionally impacted by Gulf Spill

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Vivian Friedman, child psychologist at University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) warns parents that the Gulf spill can emotionally impact their children, too.

As the financial stress is felt across the region, as restaurants close, as businesses pull out and local fisheries are unable to fish, many families are feeling the crunch. Dr. Friedman says parents have to be careful how they discuss the recent impact in front of and with their children.

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Dr. Friedman has experience in this area. She counseled many children who were displaced during Hurricane Katrina. She saw the emotional impact that these events have on children. Children expect parents to be able to control their environment and keep them safe. When something like this happens, beyond a parent’s control children are often left reeling, feeling as though the rug has been pulled out from under them.

One way parents can lessen the strain and stress children feel is being careful about talking in front of their children. If you’re feeling stressed, discuss these things with other adults, not with your children. Dr. Friedman says it’s okay to tell your daughter that she cannot have a cell phone this year because you’re having trouble but do not say something like “I don’t know where dinner is going to come from tonight” even if it is a concern. The Gulf spill impacts adults as well and it is their job to cope with it while sheltering their children from the harsher realities. Some parents may think they’re doing their child a favor by sharing the “reality” with them, but that is not the case, according to Dr. Friedman. It can create some heavy problems for the children. There are means of creating an atmosphere for children to remain resilient during this time.

Parents need to make sure that the child’s environment is as normal as possible. Continue to do activities that have been done in the past, as one is able to do. For instance, if you regularly go to the park to barbeque, continue that. You may not bring as much food to the park or may end up bringing cold cuts instead of beef to grille, but you can maintain the sense of normalcy.

If you normally go to such places as children’s museums during the summer months, and can no longer afford the ticket, check out your local library for passes. Libraries are a great place to spend the day, as well and it’s free. The library also usually posts fliers and informative brochures on other activities that are either free or low-cost. You may not be able to continue the same type of activity, but will still be able to provide some kind of activity which will help create the normalcy for children that they so desperately need at this time.

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