Hurricanes Are Horrible but You Aren’t.
I was not in the hurricane zone. I watched it on television. I have experienced my own severe trauma. And spent countless hours with children who experienced a variety of traumas.
With all the drama on television regarding the current storms, it’s easy for people to assume that you, your family, and your children will be damaged forever by this experience. That’s not true.
Admittedly, it’s awful to be in a situation where you fear for your life. And terrible to be displaced, depending upon others for your basic needs. Everything people have experienced in these current hurricanes is horrific, but doesn’t have to forever damage them and ruin their lives.
You Can Become Resilient and Help You Child Do the Same.
Resilience means you bounce back, adapt or adjust to whatever comes. You can nurture resilience in your child.
Many people say something like “I can’t do that! I’m not strong enough.” They think people who overcome the worst tragedies are somehow different from them. But that’s not true.
It’s a myth that overcomers have special qualities. They’re not special. And they don’t have unique qualities.
They are just like you or I.
What they do is also ordinary. You see these behaviors every day. People create social support systems that meet their basic emotional and physical needs. Resilient people develop habits that allow them to roll with the punches and come out on top. Children become resilient when they connect to adults who care for them, listen to them, teach them to manage difficult feelings, and love them.
A Hurricane Doesn’t Have to Cause PTSD
People assume that because you’ve had a horrific experience, the trauma damages you. They believe you are tainted, or forever marked by the experience. I wrote about adult trauma in my article, Trauma Wellness
Your child doesn’t have to be damaged either. It’s a big experience. And it requires a great deal out of everyone. But it doesn’t have to ruin the rest of your life or the life of your child.
Yes, This Is Difficult and Painful for You.
Parents who tend to their children in a trauma or tragedy do double and maybe even quadruple duty. You have so many pressing life problems to solve. Then you have to tend to your own painful feelings. You turn around and see your child’s feelings. Their feelings make you more aware of your own. Your child needs your help.
Try to accept that it’s natural for your child’s feelings to be uncomfortable to you. Know that your children’s play may upset you. It can and probably will remind you of your experiences in the hurricane.
Your child may lose newly developed skills. For example, if your toddler was toilet trained, they might need diapers again. This needs patience. Those skills will come back.
One of the most difficult things to do is to allow your child the space to explore their own unique return to normal. To try new or old behavior and experiences. Try to offer support without overprotection or restriction.
Children Express Themselves Through Art and Play.
It is normal for a child to create games, pictures and stories about a hurricane. Be prepared to talk to your child about the hurricane. There are inexpensive books you can read to them, games you can play, and art work you can do together. If you have no books or electricity, you can make up stories. Just make sure that the endings of each story carry a positive message of everyone survives and thrives. Try to include feelings they have and how they managed those feelings. Also consider stories that show how children solved the hurricane problems.
It might take creativity to discover art materials. They are all around you. Some people work their art with “found materials.” Found materials include anything in the world around you. Leaves, rocks, grass, sticks, beads, and even water can be a vehicle for art.
The art doesn’t have to be permanent. You don’t need glue, paper or pencils. Found objects can create a story on the floor of a shelter for you and your child to talk about. Then your child can keep the objects or throw them away.
All these activities will help you communicate with your child.
Children Need to Feel Safe in the World Again.
This, too, can be difficult for you. A hurricane seems to take away your safety. It’s unpredictable and uncontrollable. Here, too, you are doing double duty. You will need to seek a way to think about how to feel safe again yourself. You’ll find your own solution to this as your work out your feelings.
Your child will be working on the same issues. They could become clingy, refuse to let you out of their sight, or have trouble sleeping. They might cry a lot.
One way to help your child is to reassure them you’re still present. You are still you. You love them every bit as much as you always did. Point out all the things that are going right in your lives. You might have to stretch yourself to do this. But everyone has some good things at any point in time.
Children Need Emotion Skills.
You can help them learn to soothe themselves when agitated, angry or afraid. Ongoing conversations with your child about the hurricane and all the life problems can help them learn from you. Use the language of emotion. Naming your emotions and theirs teaches your child the words they need for themselves.
By your actions, you can teach self-soothing, problem solving, and coping strategies. With interaction, you can teach your child the names of their feelings and all of the skills they need to master the hurricane experience. This gives them a greater sense of control over those out-of-control feelings and their lives.
Within the chaos of hurricane aftermath, create a specific time and space to communicate about the hurricane and their feelings. Talk to them about the hurricane and make sure you hear them. This leaves a child more grounded and centered. It’s the same for adults. Everyone needs to be heard. It’s one of the greatest needs humans have.
Find a way for your child to express their feelings that fits the circumstances around them. Help them learn to cope with those feelings. Lead them in solving the problems that bring out those feelings.
Books and books have been written on subjects like this. This is a short article summarizing a few ideas.
You can view the references I used to write this here.
If you would like coaching on how to help your child, contact me.
Telephone: (615) 464-3791
©2017 by Laura Coleman, Ph.D. All rights reserved.