The hurricane is over . . .what do we say to the kids?
In all of the years of doing trauma debriefing work, we often see that families are frequently faced with the tricky balance of managing their own feelings and cravings for information while attempting to respond to their children who are also witnessing the crisis. Hurricane Irene, like every other crisis, is being covered by the media by repeatedly showing images and reporting on death tolls, homes crushed, roads demolished, cars crushed, and enormous property loss. While watching and listening to these reports affects adult anxieties and function, the affect is magnified with children. Such images and messages become ingrained in their brains and return later as anxiety and/or agitation. Please consider the following tips:
1. Limit how much information children are exposed too. Be aware of televisions and radios left on in the home that are over heard; conversations that they will tune into; and visible signs around the neighborhood and stories of friend’s traumas.
2. Be aware of the language usage regarding the hurricane. If we refer to the hurricane as “the storm”, “the big wind”, “the big rain”, or any other term that is commonly used to describe conditions that are not hurricanes, children often become anxious when we later use those same terms for less severe conditions (ie. a typical thunderstorm).
3. Avoid the temptation to immediately throw away everything that appears to have been ruined by floods or other conditions. Let the children be part of the process, especially for items that belong to them. They may be more willing to part with a toy or a coloring book once they experience it as not working or no longer useful. Rather than simply throwing away many of their belongings at one time, throwing away a few things at a time can be less traumatic.
Although the content and details of a specific event may differ, the basic process for how to help children through is similar.
Debbie Mann, LCSW