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Resources > Counseling 101

Children as the Storm Passes
Posted by Rev. Jeff Dixon, TCR, Disaster Relief. This is drawn from a variety of sources and resources. on Sep 7, 2009, 16:46

Children as the Storm Passes

 

You might be thinking....how does a critical incident like this affect kids?

 

It depends on the age of the child. The younger the child, the more they look to their parents for emotional security and strength. If a Mom or Dad are “shell-shocked" or “numb” and not able to manage their own emotions or responsibilities; the child will feel that pressure and become very confused and further stressed.

 

Think about the advice given on commercial airliners to parents traveling with small children. “Should there be an unexpected cabin de-pressurization; oxygen masks will drop from the ceiling. Place the mask over your nose and mouth like this and then place the mask over the mouth and nose of those around you needing assistance.” Take care of your own emotional needs first, and then you will be in a stronger position to help those around you. But don’t get so caught up in yourself that you forget to help them! If you feel overwhelmed in giving your children or others who may depend on you for support, please ask for help. It's okay to be tired, worn out and overly stressed. That's normal for a situation like this one. However, it's not okay to ignore caring for the needs of those counting on you like children. 

 

When you can focus and dedicate attention to the needs of the child, notice what they are saying, drawing or doing to determine if they are still feeling overly stressed from the storm. School age kids need to talk, draw or take positive action, (like having a lemonade stand to raise money for kids just like them who are now storm victims because their homes were destroyed…which is an awesome idea), so if you give them something to do to help, they can take positive action and sort through their emotions immediately.

 

High school age kids may try to act "together…its all good….no worries…cool" about everything, but often are more scared about the changes, losses and confusion than any other group. They are older and may need to experience a bit more "reality" at times to loosen up their ability to talk about what is happening around them. If they are willing to talk to their siblings, or other family members, it won't be long before they can grow strong enough to deal with things in any setting.

 

Mostly watch for danger signs by noticing any dramatic changes in behavior. If a child was always happy go lucky before the storm and now sits all day to watch video footage of world disasters on FOX News-you may want to figure out why they made such a dramatic shift in personality. Watch for other major changes in sleep patterns, school patterns, school performance, peer relations and so on. If you see major changes that concern you, it's time to seek professional attention for the child with their pediatrician or with a child behavioral specialist

 

 

Are there any “hidden dangers” the in media that parents should be concerned about that might make storm stress worse?

 

Too much media exposure is dangerous for kids. It is better to get a media "news update" once or perhaps at the most, twice a day to avoid the danger of media over exposure. I know that there were times that we just had to turn off the radio or listen or watch something else. I remember thinking how one morning after the storm I was asked, “Where did Hurricane Frances end up?” and honestly being able to say, “I don’t know…” It felt good to be unchained from the latest weather reports.

 

Leaving the news on all the time will depress the mood of the person who hears it; since deep down inside we learn to go "numb" to the normal emotions of the stressful event, to press on and burn reserve energy in the process. If your child didn't watch the morning news programs before the hurricane hit, be cautious about allowing them to watch TV news alone or having long blocks of unaccounted time with too much isolation. Best is to sort through media outlets-like television, Internet, radio or newspapers, which may contain content that is overly stressful or just too depressing for a child. Then set boundaries to protect them from additional stress in media stories, since it is important to protect their home and minds by managing the media around them.

 

We have all seen enough negative images to last a life time and things are still

being discovered and played back over again and again in media. Since watching other peoples problems in other parts of the country will cause more stress in an already stressful situation it's better to focus on your responsibilities today, right here in your own community. When things in your life are strong again, you and your kids won't be as affected by the images of crisis from other places. But that's another day, so for now, just focus on getting you and your kids though the day that we have been handed without making it harder because of the hidden stress of media overexposure.

 

I remember that Gov. Jeb Bush said it was irresponsible of the media to start talking about Hurricane Ivan while Hurricane Frances was still walloping Florida. The local news media seemed upset by this..the reason they were upset is because they just didn’t get it! The Governor of the State of Florida knew that there was something bigger and more important than responsible journalism in that moment. The emotional well being of people in the state who were worried, hurt, and stressed. I think the Governor was right….and he was right in a way that is bigger than politics, political parties, and who you like or don’t like. He was caring about the people he was elected to govern. His stock went up in my book…down in the book of some reporters I am sure.

 

 Is it wise to involve kids in the clean up and recovery process?

 

I liked the help of the kids in cleaning up the yard after the storm. If it is physically safe for everyone, I encourage the entire family to visit their damaged home together. It is okay to do clean up and recovery work together as well, since these storms are bigger than any one person could clean up anyway.

 

It's wrong to play the “hero” and try to do everything by yourself as a parent or legal guardian for children because it models being a lone ranger during a crisis. The ‘lone ranger’ mentality really leads to someone eventually becoming a ‘lonely ranger’ because you can't get through a crisis alone, nor should you. Another reason why this is so important is that viewing the destruction firsthand, (obviously in age appropriate ways), is one of the best ways to allow children to see how dangerous storms can be. And the most important reason to model this behavior to our younger kids is because they learn from their earliest childhood that families who stick together through the entire process can get through it better and faster than those who go it alone.

 

One of the things that happened in the aftermath of the first hurricane in Florida is that after I got things squared away at our home I was able to hit the road and work disaster relief with some of the people of CCC and the Florida Baptist Convention. We had to get from being victims to survivors….then I was on the road to help. I hope it was a good example for my kids to see. We did things in the right order and want them to be instilled with a desire to do for others….when the time is right! I also noticed what a great job my kids did as they called to check on their friends, worked to clean up neighbors yards, etc…after the storm.

 

Is it okay to talk about what happened to our family with others?

 

Silence is not golden in a critical incident, rather, it's dangerous. One of the best things that you can do to help yourself and help others is to tell your story. Talk about where you were when the storm came through. Talk about how you and your loved ones made it through the crisis to the other side. Keep talking and make it a point to listen carefully as you hear the stories of others who survived this terrible storm. This is important for everyone involved, kids, grandparents, Mom, dads, employees, employers, firefighters, police officers, nurses, teachers, students and on and on. Everyone has a story about Hurricane Charley and Frances…. and telling it will help them heal and may give you a chance to connect with your family, neighbors and coworkers in a powerful way. Also, don't neglect your own pastor, priest, rabbi, or spiritual authority since many times they are so busy listening to the needs of others, that they never take time for themselves.

 

The stories of the storms become stories of a lifetime…don’t be afraid to tell them!

 






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