This is an uncertain time for all of us in the Houston area as we face the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, and explaining our local situation to our children can be very difficult. It can also be difficult to explain everything that happened elsewhere on the Texas coast. Children recognize that something is different even if they are too young to fully understand the situation. While we want to protect our children, this is also a time when it is important to be honest with them so that we do not damage their trust.
There are some basic tips to communicating with your children and managing worries during this uncertain time. Also following is a note to those who have been displaced by this storm.
1. Ensure safety
What children really want to know in uncertain times is that they will be safe. Ensure your children that their safety is your main priority. This is a great time to explain that there are many people working together in our community to make sure that everyone that needs help will get it. Above all, remind your child that they are your top priority, that you know what to do if an emergency arises, and that no matter what, you will do everything to keep them safe.
2. Share facts
Explain what is happening in terms that your child can understand. It is important to be factual in your description. Without facts, children will come to their own conclusions, which may not be accurate and end up being worse than what is really going on.
Many adults get their facts from the news stations. I recommend limiting children’s exposure to the news. Consider having the news on in a different room where your child will not have direct access to it. The visuals on news reports are difficult for many of us adults to handle and are in most cases too overwhelming for children to process. Each time children see images on television, it can be as though that event is happening again and again at each viewing.
As adults, we are leaning on other adults for support in this time. It is good for us to surround ourselves with support, but I also recommend limiting grown-up conversations regarding our current situation. Consider texting updates to family and friends so that children are not hearing all of the details.
Most children will have lots of questions. It is important for us to answer our children's questions regarding the weather and what is to come, as well as the consequences that we face as a result of the flooding in our city. Children have a way of giving us cues to what information they can handle with the questions that they ask. I recommend simply and factually answering their question by only giving them the information they are requesting. Of course there may be additional information that they are not asking about, that you want them to have. Additionally, it is important for them to know what to do in case of an emergency situation so that you're not having to explain in a critical moment.
At home, keep things as consistent as possible when it comes to sleeping and eating schedules. Structure helps with anxiety on any day, especially during extenuating circumstance is. Your expectations for behavior should generally be the same. Recognizing that things aren't “normal”. Is also important, but children will find comfort in a basic schedule and expectations remaining the same.
4. Comfort and distraction
Everyone needs a little bit of extra comfort from loved ones at this time, and that definitely includes our children. Just as adults handle these situations in different ways, children will as well. Your children may seem more emotional, or they may be testing the limits a little bit more. Reassurance and extra comfort can go along way. Being intentional in your time with your children is always positive, but especially in times of uncertainty like these. Try to remain calm as your child will likely take emotional cues from you. Lots of extra hugs, words of encouragement and affirmation will go a long way in times of distress.
5. Stay positive
Point out the positive things when you can. Such as, extra family time, and neighbors helping one another. This is also a great time to model and teach your children how your faith and family can play a part in how we handle difficult times in life, and how we heal. If you were one of the lucky ones with power, and supplies, offering shelter, food, help with clean up, and other support to others is a great way to teach our children how to take care of one another in times like this.
A note to those who are displaced from their homes...
This is a difficult time for all of us, especially those who are already displaced from home. My hope is that you feel a sense of love from your family your friends, and our community. I encourage you to reach out for help, as so many want to help. Point out kindness from others to your children. I also encourage you to just love one another, and keep each other close. Many of the points listed above may seem pointless now that you're out of your home, but as you temporarily relocate and try to find a new normal, I hope that some of these tips will help.
Some things to remember if you find yourself needing to leave your house or can return to your home, consider finding comfort items for your children, such as a blanket, lovey, a favorite toy or stuffed animal and even a family photo.
Try your best to make this an adventure for your child. Remind them that your priority remains keeping them safe, and that you will be with them every step of the way. When it's possible, try to explain to them what is next and what you are trying to do. Again modeling peace will help them the most.
As we search for ways to cope with this tragedy in our community, I pray that we rally around one another and include our children in that. Whether you find yourself in the position of needing the help or being the helper, this is a great time to teach our children how to be a community of friends. Hurricane Harvey will now be a part of our story, our experience, let's teach our children how some things that seemed meant for harm in the beginning, ended in humanity and love in our community.
Written by Courtney Suddath, M.A., LSSP, LPC