How should we respond to children’s questions after the deadly wildfires?

How should we respond to children’s questions after the deadly wildfires?

“What happens if our home catches fire too? Will anyone be able to save us if that happens to us?” These are the kind of never-ending questions that young children are asking all around Greece, which are largely going unanswered by parents who are themselves seeking answers following the deadly Attica wildfires of July 23.

“My advice to parents is to minimize their children’s exposure to sounds and images that originate from the area of disaster, and, overall, keep them away from receiving excessive information on the matter,” psychologist Chryssa Karakana told Kathimerini, urging all readers and parents to pay heed.

“We should all discuss the events with our children so as to give them a solid idea of what happened, without however exposing them to graphic images that feature explicit content,” she said.

Experts say parents should also focus on the positive aspects, such as the brave victims who were able to battle their fear and save themselves, the rescue crews who fought hard against the odds, but also the many teams of volunteers who tried to help in the wake of the disaster.

“At the same time, we need to keep a sense of safety alive,” Karakana said, adding that people should try not to express any strong emotions of disappointment concerning the authorities responsible for civil protection when youngsters are around.

Meanwhile, it is important that children do not develop a phobia toward fire.

“We must educate our children so that they understand what can start a dangerous fire, how to eliminate or avoid bad habits that can spark a fire, and how we can protect ourselves in the event of a fire,” Karakana said.

Managing this situation, experts say, can be a great challenge if the child has suffered the loss of a loved one in the wildfires.

Karakana says that grieving is important so as to alleviate the emotional pain. Following the initial stages of grievance, parents or guardians can proceed with helping the child cope with the loss. It is very important for the child to be able to move on.

Shock and trauma are not exclusive to children. The Association of Greek Psychologists encourages all people affected by the recent disaster to seek professional help if they are suffering symptoms such as sadness, hyperactivity, sleep disturbance, focus problems, short-term memory loss or suicidal thoughts.

The nongovernmental organization Klimaka’s Center for Suicide Prevention encourages any survivors affected by this event to consider calling their 1018 helpline if they are struggling with their emotions.

Members of the PSY for Attiki initiative are offering their services to all victims, while the Hellenic Center for Disease Control and Prevention (KEELPNO) has been offering its psychological, advisory and public health services to those affected since the magnitude of the deadly fires became evident.

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