This year’s hurricane season has required many parents to shepherd their children through scary events. Whether it is hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes or other natural disasters, there are things you can do to help your child cope before and after the disaster:
Before a disaster: • Be prepared: Make sure your family has a plan and share age-appropriate parts of the plan with your kids. If you don’t have a plan, go to www.fema/gov/kids to develop one. If you already have a plan in place, think of it like a fire drill at school when considering how to practice. Kids do a fire drill every so often so they are prepared, but not so frequently that they become preoccupied or overwhelmed with the possibility of a fire. After a disaster: • Stay together if possible: Physical reassurance is very comforting for children. They need to see you and have extra physical affection given to them to feel safe during this time. • Understand their fears: Allow children to express their feelings and share their concerns. You want to address their concerns, not burden them with your own fears. Make sure you don’t offer false reassurances. For example, don’t say “Everything will be ok” if you don’t actually know that. Rather use phrases like, “We will get through this together.” • Explain in age-appropriate terms: Once you understand your child’s concerns, you can address them in a way they can understand. For example: “It was scary when the lights went out. That happened because a tree hit a power line and that’s why we keep flashlights in our emergency kit. The power company is working to fix it.” • Look for the helpers: Mr. Rogers’ advice is still so relevant, “When you see bad things happening, look for the helpers.” Show kids the power crews working to restore power, the aid workers helping with food and shelter, etc. This teaches kids that there are people working to make it better. • When able, help out: Kids benefit from a sense of agency when they are feeling helpless, so look for ways to help out after a disaster. For example, they can help make hygiene kits that are sent to disaster areas, or donate some of their savings to an organization.
If your child has lived through a natural disaster, it is also important to monitor their behavior and feelings. Children often regress when they are overwhelmed emotionally, so you might notice changes in sleep or toileting. If you feel the change is not returning to normal as things settle back into a routine, then you can seek professional help through a school counselor or a therapist in your area.