Washington Post: Making Sense of Hurricane Sandy

Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 10/31/2012 Oct 31, 2012 11:00 AM EDT
The Washington Post

Making sense of Hurricane Sandy

By Janice D’Arcy

Our region missed the brunt of the storm. But many of us have friends and family who were deluged by Hurricane Sandy. Even those without direct connections witnessed scenes of flooding and devastation in and on the news.

(Scott McDermott) Adults may be used to these occasional bouts with Mother Nature, but to a child the unpredictability of natural disasters can bring a special sort of anxiety. They watched their parents preparing, sometimes frantically, and now they see that those who did prepare may still have suffered.

Elmo may have said it best when the muppet took to the radio on WNYC to help reassure kids in the New York area. ”Elmo was a little scared.”


Fairfax therapist Meredith Gelman, who specializes in family counseling, suggests that parents seize the chance to discuss weather unpredictability, especially because it seems we’re fielding an increasing number of intense events.

”In recent months children have been exposed to more natural disasters with serious outcomes. Children often become very frightened by all the unknowns around the impending storms, especially when children are participating in more prep drills for the unexpected. I encourage parents to talk to their children about the upcoming storms and their unpredictability,” Gelman said.

(Justin Lane – EPA) ”When difficult feelings come up for children, I encourage parents to validate those feelings. Validating allows the children to actually feel safe, to feel heard and to be able to cope with the unknown.

”Validated kids are willing to talk about how to prepare ’ just like studying for tests and drilling for potential fires at school. What are the safety plans?”

Most importantly talk about what things and people they can count on that are predictable. Reassure them that you as the parents will keep them safe the best way you can. Their teachers, coaches and leaders will do their best to keep them safe.”

Meanwhile, Dr. David Schonfeld, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Disaster Preparedness Advisory Council reiterated that trying to shield children can cause confusion. Honesty is better.

”If children ask whether or not a storm like this could occur in their community, realize that the underlying question is not whether or not is possible, but rather whether it is likely that such an event will occur. The recent storm is highly unusual in terms of the extent of the storm and the amount of damage that it caused,” he said.

”Reassure children of what is being done to keep them safe and help them appreciate that the chance of a storm of this magnitude occurring in the near future in their community is relatively small. Yes, storms are likely to occur, but they are likely to have far less adverse impact ’ help them tell the difference between the storm that is present in their community now or is likely to occur from the recent storm that had devastating impact.

”But don’t provide false reassurance or deny actual risk.

”Sometimes it is best to help children deal with troubling concerns that are legitimate concerns rather than trying to convince them not to be worried when their concerns are legitimate. Share with them your concerns and your strategies for coping with those concerns. Children will be more likely to learn coping strategies when they are modeled and taught by adults who care for them. Learning how to cope with distress provides a lifelong skill they will, unfortunately, have other opportunity to use.”

Gelman also added on a more upbeat note, that parents can remind children of the good times that minor storms bring: ”Game playing by flashlight, family read-a-thons or family movie night with a battery operated DVD player decreases anxiety and increases coping skills and resiliency for future storms. Natural disasters pose a great deal of unpredictability, but there is a lot in our children’s lives that are stable and predictable and that they can count on.”

How are you explaining to kids the damage from Hurricane Sandy?

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