Don’t forget the children

Parents must make the effort to be aware of their children’s mental state when hurricanes approach

Since Hurricane Ivan battered Grand Cayman in 2004, many adults only have to hear the words, Hurricane watch to suffer a sudden rise in anxiety levels.

So many factors related to hurricanes stress adults: safety, job security, home damage, car damage, etc. But what about the children?

It may be easy to overlook, but the fact is children can be just as stressed by approaching hurricanes as adults.

Experts recommend that parents pay close attention to their children during hurricane season to ensure that they are not internalizing unhealthy stress.

A child who imagines losing a favourite toy to storm surge, for example, may feel the same kind of anxiety as a parent who contemplates the loss of a house.

The following are suggestions from the American Psychological Association that may be helpful for parents in the Cayman Islands:

Spend more time with children and let them be more dependent on you during the months following the trauma – for example, allowing your child to cling to you more often than usual. Physical affection is very comforting to children who have experienced trauma.

Provide play experiences to help relieve tension. Younger children in particular may find it easier to share their ideas and feelings about the event through non-verbal activities such as drawing.

Be available and encourage older children to ask questions they
may have, as well as sharing their thoughts and feelings with you and with one another. This helps reduce their confusion and anxiety related to the trauma. Respond to questions in terms they can comprehend. Reassure them repeatedly that you care about them and that you understand their fears and concerns.

Keep regular schedules for activities such as eating, playing and going to bed to help restore a sense of security and normalcy, even if your family has been relocated to a shelter or other temporary housing.

Provide safe opportunities for children to help others – helping others offers a sense of control and can help children feel better about themselves.

Reduce the number of times children see the trauma on the news. Repeatedly watching broadcasts of the disaster can re-traumatize children.

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