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Sunday 13 February 2005

Treating children's emotional wounds

Routine, school, play can help heal psychological trauma

(Source: CNN.com) -- As residents of tsunami-ravaged regions struggle for the basics of clean water, food and medical care, focus also turns to the less immediate, but still devastating, mental toll on children.

"The psychological effects are immense," explains Dr. Michael Wasserman, a pediatrician with the Ochsner Clinic Foundation in New Orleans, Louisiana. "Children understand sameness. And for reasons out of everybody's control, you've yanked that away. You've devastated their world."

Returning to a routine is an important step in helping children recover, says Charles MacCormack, president and CEO of Save the Children, an organization that provides emergency response, development assistance and advocacy of children's rights around the globe.

"We have trained Indonesian counselors available to meet with these children, but it's very important to create a sense of normalcy right away so we have established large tents where children can gather," MacCormack says. "And there are activities for them in Sri Lanka, too ... so they can have some sense that life is returning to normal."

Wasserman says re-opening schools is vital, even if the students are not necessarily learning.

"If nothing else, their routine is back to where it should be and back to what they're used to," he says.

At schools, missing students are a reminder of the devastation. In some cases, children are simply too young to understand.

Classes have resumed at Victoria (South Horizons) International Kindergarten in Hong Kong. But the school staff has not told students about two of their classmates who are missing after waves pulverized the Khao Lak, Thailand, hotel where their family was staying.

But some younger children, such as Xavier Lee of Hong Kong, have registered the scale of the tsunami tragedy.

"I feel so sad because so many people died," the 6-year-old says.

(Article Link: http://edition.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/asiapcf/01/05/tsunami.children.cope/index.html)
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