Adjusting to the New Normal
“How much longer?” is the mantra parents are hearing from their kids following the rollercoaster ride Hurricane Harvey took us on. Because community scheduling and structure were blown right out of the window by Harvey, citizens are relieved that Matagorda County is reopening schools, churches, grocery stores, and restaurants. The adjustment period for our children following Harvey may take a little longer.
Fernando Stein, MD president of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) said in an official statement: “During any disaster, children are uniquely vulnerable—both to the physical threats of the storm and flooding, as well as to the long-term psychological impacts from enduring a traumatizing event.” He goes on to say, “Children fare best when they are surrounded by loving, nurturing adults, so it’s critical that families remain together during rescue and recovery efforts.” The AAP offers some tips that will assist your children in dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and your family’s current circumstances:
Reassure your children that you love them, that all of you will be okay and that they can talk to you about anything worrying or upsetting them. Open communication is crucial. Watch for (or even expect) common symptoms of severe stress in your children, including difficulty sleeping, sleeping more than usual, nightmares, irritability, acting out, changes in appetite etc. Remember that your child cannot control those responses, so monitor their symptoms to tell if they are worsening or improving. Talk to your child about what happened and/or what is happening. Children see and hear more than adults realize, so your child may understand more than you expect. Ask your child to describe what they have experienced or understand and correct any misinformation they have. Listen to them carefully, and address their fears directly and honestly. Let them know they can ask you any question. Your child may need to ask the same question or tell you the same story repeatedly—let them. When you answer their questions, adjust the amount of detail to what is age-appropriate and appropriate for your child. Avoid too much television coverage of the disaster as much as possible, even for yourself. Research shows TV coverage of disasters can reinforce the trauma.
Recognize that each person handles traumatic experiences differently. No feeling is “wrong,” and your children should know that too. Continually reassure your children that many people are working together to help your family, their friends’ families and others in the community and to keep everyone as safe as possible. Remember that your child is watching you to see how you react and respond to the situation. This is an opportunity for you to role model how to cope and how to plan for the future.
The important thing to remember is Matagorda fared better than other counties surrounding us. Give your children and yourself the opportunity to adjust to the new normal. Encourage volunteering for the whole family. Taking the emphasis off them and putting it on others will remind them to be grateful for their wellbeing.
Originally published in the Bay City Tribune on Sunday, September 10, 2017.