Helping Our Children Cope After Hurricane Irma

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By: Veronica Cabrera, 9/16/2017

We are glad Irma did not cause too many damages to our homes and our city.  However, we have been through a stressful time. Being in a hurricane can be very frightening and the days following the storm have been very stressful as a result of having been away from home, damage caused by the hurricane to their home and possessions, traffic challenges, loss of a pet, and loss of power. Some children and their families might be already returning to normal routines by now.  Others may still be having reactions to the hurricane and its aftermath that can be affecting their thoughts, feelings and physical well-being. Understanding how Irma might still be impacting your child is important to learn how to support them.

Some common changes in behavior your child might be having are:

  • Worried about another hurricane coming and the safety of their family, including their pets.
  • Talking repeatedly or playing about hurricanes.
  • Extra clingy to family members.
  • Increased activity level– moving more than usual or easily withdrawing from any activity.
  • Showing increased irritability – getting easily upset or aggressive – screaming, hitting, throwing toys or objects.
  • Having a harder time than usual to follow instructions, or to sleep through the night.
  • Constantly scratching or picking their bodies.
  • Increased physical complaints (e.g., headaches, stomachaches, aches and pains)
  • Changes in school performance
  • Increased sensitivity to sounds (e.g., thunder, wind, and other loud noises)
  • Changes in appetite – eating more or less than usual
  • Having a hard time letting go of electronic devices – especially after extensive use during hurricane

How Can You Help Your Child?

– The most important thing to have in mind is to support your child to feel safe and calm.

Maintain routines as much as possible – including mealtimes and bedtimes. Having a predictable routine provides children with a sense of security.

– Spend time talking with your child to let them know that it is OK to ask questions and to express their feelings. Mealtimes are great times to talk and answer any questions about what is happening in the family as well as in the community. If your child is having a hard time talking about feelings or concerns, initiate conversations with them. Choices can be provided to support the conversation – “I wonder what you are thinking right now, or if you have any questions…. Are you thinking about  _________ or ________?”.  Remember to answering any questions your child might have in a simple and honest way.

– Follow hurricane conversations with a favorite story or a family activity to help them feel  safe and calm.

– Ask your children how they are feeling– “I wonder how you are feeling right now”. Once your child answers (upset, concerned, bored, tired, happy), ask them “Where on your body are you feeling____?”  and thank them for sharing that information.

– Let them see that you are really hearing what they are sharing and validate their feelings and concerns.

– Help them come up with games and activities to play together – and that will help them feel better.

– Play games that include movement, heavy work, pulling and pushing– riding bikes, tag, jumping, bouncing, tug-a-war, swings, basketball, pillow fight, being “squished”.

– Lots of sensory-based activities such as blowing bubbles, playing with clay or Play-Doh, throwing and catching a ball, making cookies with parents.

– If your child is doing a repetitive behavior – constantly scratching or picking his body, or engaging on a dangerous activity, have a conversation with them about it. It is important to bring awareness, explain why they are doing that, as well as the consequences that behavior might bring (hurting herself).  Ask your child to help you come up with ideas of what to do to avoid getting hurt. Some ideas could be squeezing the body instead of scratching or picking, giving self-hugs, squeezing hands, pushing on a hard surface, or any other idea that includes pushing, squeezing or pulling.   Come up with a word – secret code – that you can use to raise awareness, as well as a reminder of what to do at that moment.

– Help your child give back to the community – Make a trip to the grocery store to get supplies and donate to those who suffered severe loss, or gather supplies from your home that you may have bought for hurricane Irma and did not use. Getting involved in helping the community is a wonderful thing to do. They can learn a great deal as well as help themselves to feel better.

For more information about supporting your child, please contact your TKidsT therapist, or contact our center at . We recommend you  visit our website   and follow us on Facebook , and Instagram  for our greatest and latest updates. We are here to help you!