Whether you and your family rode out the storm at home or evacuated, children are looking to their parents for guidance on how to act in response to this disaster. Going through a hurricane is frightening, but the days and weeks of recovery and deviation from routine can be just as scary and stressful. Some families may be experiencing damage to their home and displacement, while others may have lost a family member or pet. Regardless of the experience your family is facing, your child’s reaction will likely be influenced by the parents or adults in their life. Thanks to help from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, we are sharing response behaviors to look for, and ways you can help your child cope.
After a disaster, life is turned upside down. Here are some ways you may see kids react. Children may worry about being separated from family, friends, or even pets, and as a result may act clingy. They may also develop and display a fear of another hurricane or natural disaster. This may manifest as increased activity, decreased attention, irritability, withdrawal, anger, and aggression. It is also not uncommon for children to complain of physical aches and pains, display changes in sleep patterns or appetite, and exhibit regressive behaviors in young children, or risky behavior in adolescents.
So the question remains, how can we help and support kids at a time where parents might feel like they are barely holding it together themselves? First thing’s first, try to take care of yourself. Make sure you and other adults/co-parents are communicating and on the same page. As cleanup and recovery begin, try not to over-exert yourself or try to accomplish too many things in one day, or make any rash decisions about your next move. When you take the steps to help yourself feel a sense of calm, you will be in a better place to help you kids feel normal.
Once you feel like you are in a good place to help your kids, open the floor for discussion. Explain to your child what happened. Reassure them that they are safe with you, and that the family will get through this together. This open conversation will help your child feel comfortable asking questions and expressing fear or concerns. For younger children, it can be helpful to explain using a favorite toy.
Remember, children are influenced by their parents and their actions and reactions. You are a role model to your children, especially during times of crisis. Try your best to maintain routines and normal schedules as much as possible. Even though we are all out of our normal element, routine will help you and your children feel a sense of stability. Also try to maintain expectations and rules for your family, like using manners, and being kind and respectful to one another. Limiting media exposure and reassuring your children that their friends are being taken care of by their own parents and families will help your child’s anxiety about those you may not be in touch with because of limited internet or cell service.This time is and will continue to be trying for adults and children alike. While it may take some time, your family will return to some kind of normal, whether that is returning home or creating a new normal and a fresh start. The best thing you can do for your children during this time is to take care of yourself, set a good example of self-care and calm, and keep the dialog open.