Natural disasters are unpredictable and uncontrollable events, which makes them scary for everyone, but particularly children. – Dympna Carten RMN, ENB Community Psychiatric Nurse
The Cayman Islands had an exciting first half of 2020. Grand Cayman was rocked by one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded in the Caribbean, two huge dump fires broke out at the George Town landfill site, and all three Islands hunkered down as the coronavirus pandemic swept across the world. All this before the official start of the 2020 hurricane season!
Everyone deals with such momentous events differently, however generally some degree of unease or anxiety is experienced in the aftermath. While adults may be better equipped to recognise what they are feeling and why – it can be a lot harder for children to make sense of their emotions. Although it is not always possible to predict certain natural disasters, there are ways to mitigate the anxieties experienced after the fact. Having conversations with them about what to expect before, during and after a natural disaster, as well as teaching them the importance of accepting uncertainty is key for building resilience.
These five tips can help your child more easily prepare for and then process natural disasters.
1. Focus on Information & Reassurance
Give age-appropriate information about how natural disasters can happen to help children better understand. Talk about what may happen and has happened – you know your child and what works best for them. For some children, conversation may be easier sitting side by side while drawing a picture or while helping to prepare a meal. For others, face to face conversation may work best. Keep your tone reassuring, repeating messages such as “That was scary, but we’re safe now.”
Be matter of fact and encourage questions. Be honest and if you can watch or listen to information about the event with your child and use this as a tool to educate and offer reassurance. Minimise social media exposure for children/teens, particularly before going to bed.
And most importantly – do not underestimate the power of a good cuddle!
2. Talk About Preparation
Show them where you store your emergency equipment, draw up lists of who they should contact in an emergency situation and practise your drills. Ask them to consider preparing a small bag of what might be important for them to have ready.
For children who are worried about the likelihood of unprecedented events and natural disasters, knowing that their family members are prepared will give them a sense of security. If you don’t know the answer, don’t be afraid to admit it. Don’t jeopardise your child’s trust by making something up or offering false promises.
3. Stick to Your Routine
Children find security in routine, and the sense that ‘life goes on’ will help them feel safe. While it is tempting to keep your child home, if your school or preschool are open and Government has officially verified returning as safe – send them! Being around their friends and getting back into routine is tremendously helpful for children. Encourage them to get outside and play, arrange play dates for younger children, resume the usual daily activities of walking the dog etc.
Stick to mealtimes, maintain a healthy diet, and avoid processed and convenience foods. Keep bedtimes as normal as possible. Maintain compliance with any previously prescribed medication and keep appointments with professionals as scheduled.
4. Know When to Seek Help
Anxiety is normal after an event such as a natural disaster, and can take the form of many different behaviours. These include:
These behaviours are normal after a traumatic event and will start to fade within a relatively short time. However, if your child is exhibiting ongoing and protracted anxious behaviours and the reactions to the traumatic event are becoming so intense and causing disruption to their daily lives/family dynamic, then arrange an appointment with their doctor or seek a professional counsellor to help your child with tools to manage their anxiety. Turn to page 130 for a list of trusted mental health professionals on Island who can assist.
5. Manage Your Own Anxiety and Come Together as a Family
As a parent ensuring that you have healthy methods of dealing with your stress and anxiety is the most important way that you can help your child after a traumatic event such as a natural disaster.
Children learn through what they see, so if you are showing them that you can manage your stress, they learn that their stress is manageable too. The more calm, relaxed and focused you are, the better you will be able to help your child.
Encouraging time and discussion as a family is a good way to identify needs, seek solutions and give everyone a voice and a role in handling untoward events such as natural disasters in a positive and pragmatic way. Monitor adult conversations. Be aware of what adults are saying about the event or the damage. Children may misinterpret what they hear and be unnecessarily frightened. Focus on the positive and stay hopeful.
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