Last February, I posted a Q & A with Dr. Stacy Ikard addressing how to talk with your child about death and loss. Some of that information was specific to the shootings our community dealt with at UAH and Discovery Middle School but much of what she had to say is just as relevant today in the wake of our community’s recent devastation.
The difference with a natural disaster is that evidence of what happened is all around. Even very young children know something is wrong when sirens are going off and the family must gather in the basement, closet or bathroom. In the coming days and weeks, our families will deal with no power, long lines for gas and food, and tragedy all around us and in plain sight. Children will naturally start to ask questions and it’s hard to know exactly how to answer. Below we share some important tips from various children experts about how to address the issue of natural disasters with your children.
How to Help Your Children Cope After a Tornado[list type=”pointerlist2″]
- Spend time talking with your child. This will let your child know that it is OK to ask questions and to express their concerns. Issues may need to be discussed more than one time. You should remain flexible and open to answering new questions and providing clarifications.
- Finding time to have these conversations is important. One way is to use family times (such as mealtimes) to talk about what is happening in the family as well as in the community. You should answer questions briefly and honestly, but also ask your children for their opinions and ideas about what is discussed. For younger children, try to follow tornado conversations with a favorite story or a family activity to help them feel more safe and calm.
- Be a role model. Changes in living conditions can be extremely stressful for children. They will take cues of how to handle situations from their parents. Modeling calm behaviors will be important during chaotic times.
- Reassure children that they are safe. This may need to be repeated many times following the tornado. You should spend extra time with your children and stay connected. It doesn’t matter whether it’s playing games outside, reading together indoors, or just cuddling. Be sure to tell children they are loved.
- Limit media exposure. It is important for you to protect your child from overexposure to sights and images of the tornado, including those in newspapers, on the Internet, or on television.
- Encourage children to help. Children recover and cope better when they feel they are helping. Find opportunities in which they can contribute in the aftermath of the tornado. Give small tasks related to clean-up or family activities. After children spend time in clean-up activities, provide activities that are not related to the tornado. This may include playing a game, reading a book, playing cards, etc.
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