We’ve all been glued to our TVs in suspense about the coverage of Hurricane Sandy and the aftermath of the devastation bestowed upon New Jersey and New York. But how can parents talk to their children about the events unfolding in the news?
We spoke with Children’s National pediatric psychologist Eleanor Mackey on how to talk about extreme storms, signs of anxiety in children, and how to teach kids about loss. Here is advice from Dr. Mackey:How do you tell children a huge storm is coming, without inciting panic?
Kids do get really scared and it’s important for parents to talk to children so they know what to expect. Here are some tips about how to talk to children about storms at different ages:
- Tell young children small details about the storm, such as“it’s going to be rainy and we’re going to camp in the basement tonight.”
- Explain to older children the details of the storm, but ensure you have a plan. “Trees may fall, there could be flooding, and we might lose power, if we do lose power, we have flashlights and games to play.”
- Always portray a sense of calm when explaining an oncoming storm so that the child will feel better knowing mom or dad is in charge.
How do you explain loss in times of a devastating storm?
Lots of people, especially in New York and New Jersey, lost their homes and valuables and that can be a scary thing for a child. You can take this opportunity to explain to your child that sometimes we lose important things, but that people come together to help each other in times of need.
We didn’t get hit as hard in Washington, DC, but when I was driving around with my daughter, she asked why a tree had fallen on a house. I explained to her that “sometimes trees fall and they’re going to get someone to come and fix their house,” which was an appropriate answer for a 3-year-old to understand.
You can also involve your children in the recovery effort by taking them to the grocery store to collect cans of food for donation.
What if a parent suspects their child has anxiety from the storm?
Parents may see that their child has become anxious after the storm. It’s always important to look for behavior that is not ordinary for your child, for example maybe they become scared of thunder or won’t go outside when it’s raining.
Ask your child to explain their anxieties and worries in drawings or through play.
Children can also develop post-traumatic stress disorder by proxy. Even if a child wasn’t directly affected by the hurricane damage in New York and New Jersey, they may be worried for family members who are.
If you suspect that your child is exhibiting signs of anxiety, talk to your child’s pediatrician or a pediatric psychologist.
In times like these, it’s important to remind children that even when bad things happen, it helps us remember how good people are and that being part of a community and coming together to help out can really feel good.