When a Preschooler Experiences Trauma

A plastic bin sat on the floor to use as a doll bed. The baby doll sat in the bin with a baby blanket next to it. A preschooler took the doll and wrapped it in the blanket. She then placed the doll facedown on the floor and turned the plastic bin over on the doll, totally enclosing the doll underneath the bin. This was one week after devastating tornadoes had ravaged the landscape and homes, and taken lives in the surrounding area. I served on a Disaster Relief Child Care team in which we cared for children whose homes had been damaged.

As I watched this preschooler play with the doll, I wondered if this was what happened to her. Did her family get under furniture for protection? Did they place something on top of themselves to keep safe? What was the best way for me to respond to this preschooler?

As you teach Mission Friends®, you also may have a time when there is a natural disaster. The preschoolers you teach may have been impacted by disasters such as flooding, a hurricane, fire, or a tornado. When preschoolers experience trauma from natural disasters, how can you help them feel safe and secure when they are at church?

  • Realize that separation anxiety may be heightened, even for older preschoolers. Take a picture of the preschooler with his parent, and let him keep the picture in his pocket during the session.
  • Provide a place such as cubbies for preschoolers to put their jackets, artwork, etc. Placing their names on the cubbies tells them, “This is your space.” This is important for preschoolers who have been displaced from their homes.
  • Keep your classroom structure as much as possible. Keeping the same general schedule gives preschoolers security in knowing what will happen next in the classroom. Keeping classroom rules gives preschoolers security in knowing that something is in control, when much of their world is out of control.
  • Provide activities for preschoolers to express themselves through artwork, movement, or dramatic play. Some preschoolers may need to pound play dough, while others may need a quiet place to read or listen to music.
  • Preschoolers may regress in areas such as toilet training. Remind preschoolers more frequently, and keep extra clothing on hand in case of accidents.
  • Give preschoolers opportunities to talk about the disaster at their own pace. Use Sometimes I Am Afraid to talk about their fears. Show preschoolers the Bible thoughts in the Bible, and repeat these often. Clear up any misconceptions about the disaster, and answer questions with simple answers.
  • Show preschoolers that you care about them. Show genuine love to give them the comfort and security they need.
  • Give preschoolers opportunities to show appreciation to the helpers by making cards for disaster volunteers, firefighters, or law enforcement officers.
  • Talk with parents if a preschooler continues to talk only about the disaster after several weeks. Refer parents to community resources if a preschooler is in need of further help in coping with the trauma.
  • Help preschoolers to begin looking for the good things that happened. For instance in the example above, “The baby doll is safe now. You are caring for her. God is with you.”
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