Helping Children Cope With Severe Storms

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What Do Parents Need To Know?

The more parents encourage their children to talk about severe weather, the better children will feel. Start talking to them right away: When a storm is on the way, after the storm has passed, and time and time again afterwards. Children need to keep talking about their experiences. It is how all of us make sense out of things as human beings.

Children sometimes become the lost souls of a family in crisis. Adults can get so caught up in their own feelings that they don’t realize how emotional and difficult the experience is for children. Also, sometimes adults think it’s better to keep quiet and avoid stirring things up with the kids. But kids are aware that the adults in their lives are dealing with powerful emotions. They know something is happening and it’s important. They may not always get the facts straight, but they’re aware of the tension adults are experiencing. If adults don’t address difficult issues, the children will have to carry this burden all alone. They may feel it’s their fault. Adults need to be aware of what children feel and think, to listen to them, and talk openly and honestly with them.

If unsure where to start, try using the questions below to help get the child(ren) to start talking. This will be an ongoing process: Adults don’t get this figured out in one conversation and neither do children. It may not be easy for adults to discuss this over and over, but it is necessary to help the kids work through their fears and anxieties.

What did you see? How did you feel about it? How did you deal with it? What did you learn from it?

Activities That Can Help Children Cope

  • Have children talk to grandparents or parents and tape record or write down their storm-related stories.
  • Have toys such as fire trucks, ambulances, building blocks, puppets and dolls available that encourage play reenactment of children’s experiences and observations.
  • Children need close physical contact during times of stress to help them feel a sense of belonging and security. Structured children’s games that involve physical touching are helpful in this regard; for example, Ring Around the Rosie; London Bridge; Duck, Duck, Goose; and so forth.
  • Have the children do a mural on long paper or draw pictures about the storm focusing on what happened in their house or neighborhood when the big storm hit. Adults should help discuss these drawings afterwards.
  • When adults share their own feelings, fears and experiences, it legitimizes children’s feelings and helps them feel less isolated. If adults were afraid, then it’s OK for children to be afraid, also.
  • Adults need to admit when they don’t know the answers to questions. Find out the answers and let the children know what they are.
  • Explain to children that disasters are very unpredictable, and may cause things to happen that can even trouble adults. Even so, adults will always work very hard to keep children safe and secure.

Know When To Make Referrals

The following list of behaviors could indicate a child may need qualified professional help to deal with the storm-related stress. When the child:

  • demonstrates the desire to hurt himself or herself or others;
  • repeatedly expresses himself or herself in somber or self-deprecating terms;
  • starts to rely on dark colors and themes in artwork;
  • continues to act out aggressively or violently;
  • becomes more immature or too mature;
  • repeatedly wants to be alone;
  • sets fires or commits other destructive acts; and
  • deliberately and repeated harms animals.
Leanne Manning, Extension Educator | The Learning Child

This post was previously published as a PDF in 2005 for NebFact. It was originally written by Manning and is used with her permission.

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