Natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes and tornadoes can seriously disrupt a child’s sense of order and security. Even if a child’s home is not damaged and family members are uninjured, a storm might be the first sign that the world is not always a safe and orderly place, despite all precautions. Parents, even though they may be stressed, can do much to alleviate their children’s fears and concerns.
In the days following a disaster, parents may find that their children’s emotions are magnified. That’s because they haven’t yet developed coping skills or gained the understanding that the disruption is temporary — that their world will return to normal. There might by feelings of loss, fear and fatigue
North Carolina Cooperative Extension recommends that parents follow these steps for helping their children understand that they are safe and that their parents will care for them:
- Maintain a routine if it is at all possible. Read your child a favorite story at bedtime, even if it’s by candlelight or flashlight, or play a favorite game. Children take comfort in the fact that mealtimes, bedtimes, bath and playtime which take place as closely as possible to the pre-storm schedule are signs that their world is slowly returning to normal.
- Maintain the same family rules and household routines that existed before the storm. Even though the house may be flooded or littered, for example, children should still place trash in trash cans rather than throwing it on the floor. This promotes a sense of responsibility and belonging and fosters the idea that the household will soon return to normal.
- Don’t expect children to learn a whole new set of skills that they didn’t need before the disaster.
- Despite the urgency of the cleanup, try to find a stopping point in what you are doing to spend time with your children and reassure them that they are safe and secure. Encourage them to write letters to their grandparents and take photographs of the area to share with out-of-state relatives and to keep as souvenirs.