It only took a few hours for Hurricane Harvey to dismantle the city of Houston last week. Unfortunately, they will be dealing with the aftermath of this monster storm for years to come. According to Business Insider, approximately 230,000 children are delayed from returning to the class room this week. Is it any wonder, when you consider the scope of this disaster? You only need to look around Houston to get a taste of the devastating consequences done to this area, but, much of the damage to children cannot be seen because it is on the inside. When a natural disaster spins their world into utter chaos, what kind of psychological effects can be expected? What can parents do to minimize the emotional and psychological impact on their children?
First of all, we all do well to remember that children are resilient. In many cases, children cope better than adults when it comes to sudden disaster in their lives. Obviously, the top priority for a family who is displaced is to get somewhere warm, safe, and dry, and think of nothing else until that is accomplished. Once the family gets into a temporary shelter or residence where they can begin to heal and rebuild, the difficult part begins.
Depending on the damage done to your home, and how much clean up there is to do, the reality of Hurricane Harvey will start to take hold. Your family may be in disbelief over the whole situation. It’s time to start talking to the children. Encourage them to discuss what happened. Answer their questions the best you can. Emotionally, children look to you for reassurance and confidence, if you stay strong and calm, they take notice. If they feel as if their loved one is taking care of things and in control of the situation, it will lessen their anxiety. If you are religious, pray with them and thank God that you are alive and safe. Continue to reassure them that things will be okay.
Going forward, there will be much uncertainty as to when the children will return to school. Parents should keep in contact with the local authorities, if at all possible. Some schools may be giving free lunches and/or activities, clothing, and supplies for the children. Ask school authorities for suggestions for topics and/or educational handouts for your children. If there is a specific book you were going to read during the school year, you could read it now, during this time of uncertainty. In many ways, it is still a time for day-to-day survival, until things around the city dry out and calm down. Continue to reassure the children that things will be back to normal soon, it will take some time. Start to discuss where they were in their classes when the storm hit. Talk about each subject for at least 10 minutes each day to keep the content fresh in their minds. Start trying to establish some kind of routine. Read together as a family.
Reach out to other families for support and look for opportunities to help people. This is a great time to teach children about reaching out to others, who may be in a worse situation than them. Helping others will keep their focus off of what they are going through, and allow them to feel good about themselves. Teach your children that material goods can always be replaced. Although school supplies and other necessities will need replacing, nothing is more important than the fact that they are alive, safe, and together with their family.
Point out all the helpers in the aftermath. This is a special opportunity to mention the doctors, nurses, police, EMT’s, and all the people who continue to work hard to rebuild the city after the storm.
It is okay for your children to see you cry and be sad. That would be a normal reaction, for a disaster of this magnitude. However, try not to stay there, keeping positive will go a long way towards helping your children feel confident and secure. If you find yourself continually depressed and not able to function, seek help. Counseling help is available through The University of Oklahoma and many volunteer counselors who are working throughout the area. To recap:
- Look for teaching opportunities
- Take things one day at a time
- Give your children lots of affection
- Help others
- Reach out for help for yourself, if you need it (Ask school or local authorities)
- Point out the helpers
- Stay positive
- Talk to your kids
- Discuss their school subjects
- Read together
Tell your kids that, there have been many large storms like Hurricane Harvey in the past, and people do rebuild their lives. Explain that things may look different for a while. For example, you may have to move into a different home or attend a different school, but you will make the best of it. Before you know it, your children will be back in school, your life will start to look normal again, and your kids will have the story of a life time to tell their children. We are a small private school in Houston Texas. We believe that a one-to-one approach to teaching children maximizes their potential. Contact us for more information.