Here are some tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics on how to help your children deal with their experience and your family’s current circumstance in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
- Reassure your children that you love them, that all of you will be okay and that they can talk to you about anything worrying or upsetting them. Open communication is crucial. If children suspect their questions or comments upset you, they may shut down, making recovery more difficult later on.
- Watch for (or even expect) common symptoms of severe stress in your children, including difficulty sleeping, sleeping more than usual, nightmares, changes in appetite, irritability, acting out, withdrawing from others, obsessiveness, new hyperactivity and persistent crying. Recognize that your child cannot control those responses and monitor their symptoms so you can tell if they are worsening or improving.
- Talk to your child about what happened and/or what is happening.
“Silence suggests that what has occurred is too horrible to even speak of,” the AAP notes. Children see and hear more than adults realize, so your child may understand more than you expect.
- Ask your child to describe what they have experienced or understand and correct any misinformation they have. Listen to them carefully, and address their fears directly and honestly. Let them know they can ask you any question, and keep communication going.
- Your child may need to ask the same question or tell you the same story over and over again – let them. When you answer their questions, adjust the amount of detail to what is age-appropriate and appropriate for your particular child.
- Using electronics such as tablets or smartphones is fine if they are available, but avoid television coverage of the disaster as much as possible, even for yourself. Plenty of research has shown that TV coverage of disasters can reinforce the trauma, especially for children but also for adults.
- Recognize that each person handles traumatic experiences differently. Your child may seem shell shocked, morbidly curious, or completely uninterested. All of these can be normal reactions. No feeling is “wrong,” and your children should know that too.
- Continually reassure your children that many people are working together to help your family, their friends’ families and others in the community and to keep everyone as safe as possible.
- Remember that your child is watching you to see how you react and respond to the situation. “This is an opportunity for you to role model how to cope and how to plan for the future,” the AAP notes.