If you live in Australia, it is almost impossible to have not been distressed by all the images from the bush fires raging across our beautiful country.
Every television program has footage of the devastation, images of flames engulfing buildings, burnt and hurt animals, and now there are interviews with people who watched their homes burn and have lost everything.
Social Media continually shares distressing images of our native animals who are suffering, not to mention the 500 million animals killed, and lives lost.
Stop for a moment and consider what exposure to these images is doing to our children.
I have very special friends who have decided to stay with their home and fight the fires. They are retired and built their home when much younger. Their home holds a shared lifetime of memories, their garden is a haven for native birds and animals. So much so they have to grow their food crops in cages. The fires continue to rage all around them. I am afraid to call, in case I distract them from protecting their home.
Mine is one small story, I am sure that most people know someone who is battling, or has been impacted by the fires.
Think of those children, all excited to be going on a camping holiday, only to have their usual, fun time, disrupted by emergency evacuations and being stuck in huge traffic jams. Some are running out of food and water.
Are your children struggling to settle down at bedtime?
They are probably struggling because they have been traumatised by all the images and conversations about the bush fires.
It is impossible to put our kids into a sterile bubble, away from all the scary images and talk around us. Inevitably, they will be impacted by it. I know I am, and I am an adult who has lived through a civil war as a child and young adult. We did not have social media to contend with when I was growing up. Newspapers published photos of live people and a story about their death. We were not exposed to images of dead bodies, burnt and maimed animals and the raw emotions of someone who has just lost everything they own.
We are fortunate in Australia, we have wonderful organisations that are able to assist with trauma and mental health.
If you feel you are struggling and things begin to overwhelm you please contact one of these organisations as they have highly skilled people who can assist you.
Is your child avoiding bedtime?:
There are many reasons kids don’t want to go to bed at night. As a parent, I am sure you recognise the usual ‘delaying tactics’ kids are so fond of using. It is possible that you have measures in place already to help with those. If not, please check out a blog I wrote in February 2019, Is your child getting enough sleep?
Your child may have Vicarious Trauma:
Vicarious trauma is a response to an accumulation of exposure to the pain of others (Figley, 1995).
Separation anxiety is not uncommon and your child may not want to go to bed alone. He or she may have seen images of the young child receiving a bravery medal after his father died fighting the fires.
It is possible your child may have overheard adults discussing some of the frightening situations we have seen on social media. Those images are impacting adults, to be sure they are also traumatising our children.
Distraction & Routine will help:
Most children today have their lives filled with ‘instant gratification’.
‘Mummy, I’m hungry’ – usually results in a snack provided, or, if you are out shopping, the buying of take-away food.
‘Mummy, I’m bored’ – usually results in the child being handed a device to distract and entertain.
Not many Mothers/Fathers, and even some Grandparents tell a child to ‘go and find something to do’/‘tidy your bedroom’/‘play outside’/play with your brother’.
It is so easy to pass the child a device or switch on the television and put on a movie or game for them to play.
Children are not given time to think for themselves much these days. The consequence is that bedtime is the time when they are alone with their thoughts. If your child has had a good day, the thoughts will be untroubled and usually, your child will fall asleep easily.
However, if the day has not been a carefree one, then those distressing situations are the things they think about once they are alone in their bed. With all the bushfire images being shown continuously these days, it is possible that your child’s thoughts will be of them.
Often children ‘play up’ at bedtime. If you do persuade them to get into bed, you will still need something positive to distract them from the thoughts that are distressing them and preventing sleep.
Create a routine and stick to it:
Children respond well to routine. Routine gives them something constant that they can rely on. This is especially important when they are stressed by things around them.
Invest time into setting up a routine that works for you, your child and the rest of the family. Make a schedule and put it up on the fridge.
It usually takes two weeks to establish a regular pattern, such as a sleep routine. If you make it a pleasurable thing to do, you will find your children will look forward to it.
If you have more than one child, be sure to include the older ones. The routine will work best if the whole family is involved.
Creating the routine:
Stop your child watching TV, using a smartphone or device for at least two hours before bedtime. Be sure to not have a television on during this time. Most smart TVs are able to record for viewing later, so there is no need to have the set on in the background.
Get your child to help set the table for dinner. If you usually watch TV whilst eating, stop doing that for two weeks and see the difference it makes. Put all the phones in a different room, preferably on silent so they don’t disturb your dinner. Yes, even yours. NO phones on the table when eating a meal. All phones can take messages. Dinner time in your new routine should be family time, without any distractions.
Turn it into a fun activity. Involve your family in planning, making, setting the table, serving and, of course, eating the meal together. If you have more than one child, possibly let the younger ones make origami/folded paper serviettes for each person. If you have a garden, perhaps they can be encouraged to put flowers in a vase as a centrepiece for the table. Go back to basics, simple fun to do tasks will give your child or children something enjoyable to look forward to.
During the meal, have everyone share something fun that happened during the day. Take your time, don’t rush anyone. Families who regularly eat meals together, talk more with their children and so the kids share what is worrying them before it escalates out of hand.
Walk the dog, or take a stroll around the garden. Involve your child in what you could grow together. Gardening is a wonderful way to ‘ground’ children. (pun intended)
Play music on a CD player or device without visual stimulation.
Play old fashioned board games or cards.
Snuggle up with a favourite storybook or two.
Journals or Diaries:
If you do not do so already, perhaps think about getting your child to keep a diary or journal of all the fun things that happened during the day. If your child does not write well yet, let them draw a picture that shows what happened in the day. Let your child decorate the journal and suggest a special place to keep it so that you do not waste time each day looking for it.
Challenge your child to do something nice for someone every day. Doing nice things for others usually makes you feel good about yourself. A child that feels good about themself will gain confidence and be less troubled at bedtime. Make sure you write down ‘good deeds’ done each day.
If you would like more ideas to help your children recover from their exposure to the dreadful bushfires Australians are battling at the moment, please download the free KIDS SLEEP DIARY & ACTIVITY BOOK here.