By Janaki Jane, Colorado Spirit
It’s hard enough to have to deal with the aftermath of a disaster as adults, whether it’s fighting insurance companies or driving past debris piles every day. Taking care of kids adds another level of stress and worry. Unfortunately, many children experience disasters every year. Fortunately, this means that many parents before you have found successful ways to deal with their children’s reactions to natural disasters.
Lyons and Environs Colorado Spirit Team members Robin Lyons, M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, and Beth Knorek, Masters in Education and Masters in Family Therapy, have the following suggestions for dealing with children after disaster.
Tell the truth, appropriately for their age. Don’t scare them, but be honest. If the child asks: “Is the run-off going to make another flood?” don’t say “No, don’t worry.” Tell them the truth: we don’t know, but this is how we are prepared this time. Use it as a way to go into what Mom’s and Dad’s roles are, and what the child’s jobs are.
A sense of routine and normalcy help children to feel that even though things have changed, there’s a lot that’s still the same. They can rely on the predictability of knowing what will happen, even if much in their lives is different. Even if some of their recreation programs aren’t happening, it’s helpful to get kids together with the other children they were in the program with.
Expect that children might revert to younger habits, or bad habits. It’s okay to nurture a child in a way that seems no longer age appropriate, especially at stressful times.
Modeling appropriate reactions. This means talking and expressing feelings, instead of shutting down. This can be especially hard when an adult is feeling overwhelmed or discouraged themselves, but needing to reassure a child can be the extra something that allows expressing those feelings possible. It’s a chance to share how to express and accept what they are feel “Make sure they get enough exercise,” but any sort of play that helps you laugh, and relax is a way for everyone to feel better.
It is very important to take care of yourself. Parents can burn out. If a child has had a really tough time of it, perhaps they need someone else to talk to, a social worker or psychologist might be what they need in this hard time after the flood. Or the family might need a break from each other; a visit to grandparents or cousins might be in order, or a day summer camp might be a good idea.