Six weeks ago, New Jersey and New York were hit HARD by Hurricane Sandy — and many families are still struggling to pick up the pieces and put their lives back together. People lost their homes to floods, houses were washed away into the ocean, thrown off their foundations and destroyed, some houses even caught fire. The storm only lasted about 6 hours near our home, but it did a lot of damage. Some Jersey residents had no power up until the end of November. It is amazing the way people have helped others, including those who helped in the clean up and sharing generators when the storm knocked out lights, block after block, across the two states. The strong sense of community and people showing up for each other has been extremely heartfelt and overwhelming. And it’s that sense of community that proves so many of us are good people at heart.
But how do you talk to your kids or students about anxiety or being displaced — or even answer questions about those who don’t have a place to live right now?
In the aftermath of most natural disasters and tragedies, many parents, teachers and caregivers simply aren’t prepared to support children who are struggling with grief, displacement or ongoing anxiety/depression. In our area, there are many displaced teachers, administrators and children — some schools in New York and New Jersey were damaged so severely in the storm that they are still not open as yet.
Parents especially have had a hard time explaining disaster and chaos to their children. When one has lost everything, had massive damage to their home and personal property, or is still living with friends and family members, it can be quite stressful thinking about your situation, let alone explain it to your child.
Here are some tips you can use to keep children feeling safe in the wake of tragedy. After all, as parents it is our job, despite our circumstances, to try our best to make our children feel safe.
- Talk to your children about their concerns. Ask them what their fears are, and then sit back and listen to what they tell you. Don’t interrupt or negate what they say; just listen.
- Acknowledge their fears. You may have the same fears yourself, which you can be honest about (the amount of disclosure depends on the age of your child, of course), but hear them out and encourage them, using positive words.
- Let them know you are there for them. Let your children know that no matter what, you are there for them and will listen and comfort any concern they have.
- Pay attention to your child’s mood and how they are coping with what is going on. If they seem depressed or anxious, speak to their pediatrician.
- Reach out. If possible, help others in need as a family, so your children can learn that many times we can feel better about our circumstances when we help someone who has similar or worse circumstances than we do.
- Communicate with your child’s teacher. Work with your child’s teacher (always communicate, communicate, communicate) to ensure that everyone is on the same page in giving your child a platform to express any concerns, uncertainties or challenges. Children are more resilient when they feel supported.
Support teachers: It’s very important during times like these to support our kids’ teachers, who, like parents, are on “the front lines.” Teachers should be given as much support as possible by administrators so that they are well-equipped to answer their students’ questions. In the classroom, teachers should have their antennae up and be more empathetic to children who are dealing with displacement and ensure that parents of these children are contacted more often when/if their child is “reacting” in class or is having trouble adjusting. You may always have some children who respond to rapid and uncertain change through negative behaviors. If teachers supported, in turn most children will feel more confident, despite the chaos, in any changes that occur.
About Kumari Ghafoor-Davis
Kumari is a social worker and a parent coach. Her company, Optimistic Expectations fosters better parent/child relationships and family cohesiveness on her website Optimistic Expectations. She is the author of Real Talk: Ten Parenting Strategies to Raise Confident Successful Children.