What Do I Tell the Kids?
Post by: Gina Stone
There’s a video I watched that has haunted me. A little girl after the Joplin tornado was with her mother, picking up pieces of their home. She found a pink umbrella, and as little girls are apt to do, toted around this parasol. All the while picking up pieces of wood and such —what most would call debris, but what she used to call her home. And one trip at a time, one hand holding her parasol, one hand carrying bits of her pre-storm life and setting it on the foundation of the house. Bittersweet. Such innocence captured amidst such utter devastation.
This situation, I’m sure, has replayed itself in several communities, without the video cameras being present.
When a disaster strikes, as untold numbers can attest, it doesn’t end when the storm moves through, or the shaking stops, or the smoke dissipates. And for children, they may not know how to express their anger, fear, and anxieties after a disaster. The emotional toll is not always as evident as the physical damage.
Talk to your children. Reassure them, let them know there are “grown-ups” working to help, and they are safe now.
Answer their questions honestly, in terms they can understand depending on their maturity level. In your disaster kit, have something comforting for small children, such as a teddy bear, or cuddly blanket.
Keep some art supplies in your kit, encourage children to draw, write, create – this allows for an expression of their feelings that they can’t necessarily verbalize.
Monitor their exposure to news and media coverage.
Even though you may be in a state of hypervigilance the exposure to scenes from the disaster may be frightening to children whether they are in or outside of a disaster area, and they may not understand the threat is over, or even if the threat is a distance away when they keep seeing the images over and over again.
Be aware of signs of stress in preschool and school-age children. Headaches, stomach aches, bed wetting are all common signs. Frequent reassurance and open discussions about the events help. Teenagers are not immune, while they may have some better coping skills, they still will need guidance and reassurance. Monitor for signs of depression, especially in those that are prone to it. If problems continue or get worse, don’t hesitate to contact a crisis counselor to help them, and you, work through the problems and fear.
Above all, have patience. Easier said than done, but try to remember they are trying to cope with what has happened just as much as you are.
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Founding Contributor of 2BeeReady.org