What a difference a few minutes can make. That’s the way it seemed late yesterday afterno0n here in La Crosse. Dark clouds swirling, tornado sirens screaming, and then – suddenly, huge trees were uprooted, roofs torn off, windows broken, cars smashed.
Fortunately, there was no loss of life or even injury reported in our city – miraculously so if one has viewed the extent of damage in the neighborhoods affected by the storm.
The Parenting Place was in the path of the destruction but luckily all is well there except some roof damage that is being checked out.
I know personally I am left feeling a bit jittery inside. And both of our young adult kids on the East Coast, hearing the news, wanted and needed to connect and talk the experience over to make sure all was well.
So what to expect from your own children – especially those whose homes and neighborhoods saw damage, but even those that waited, huddled down in the basement, for the storm to be through to find that all was well.
What many children might experience during this next week or so are sleep disturbances, waking up several times a night, bad dreams, fear of going to bed, loud noises, separation issues, pre-occupation about what will happen with the weather.
You may notice children play acting the experience with their siblings, hiding, perhaps gathering all their stuffed animals and putting them in the basement or under the bed to keep them safe.
Children are often more irritable, tired, clingy and may show some signs of regression. They sometimes develop unusual fears – even of specific days, such as “bad things happen on Sundays”. Coincidentally, our two recent storms, when the sirens needed to be activated, have now both occurred on a Sunday (so not too far a stretch to imagine).
I read about a family in the South who recently experienced devastating damage from a tornado and this particular mom talked about the fears her children were experiencing. Her preschooler was constantly looking at the clouds in the sky and worrying that one was a tornado. Her six-year-old was afraid to walk under trees that they might fall on him. Her older girls insisted she check and re-check the weather channel before they went to school and even a little bit of rain made all of them a bit unnerved (even her, she admitted).
For all of us and especially children, it is the shock of seeing a familiar neighborhood not looking so familiar any more that challenges a child’s belief system about the stability and safety of his world.
And it is this insecurity that creates the anxiety in them, as well as us.
What a child wants and needs to know most, therefore, is that she is safe, that there are people available to help her and that there is a secure place to go during a storm. I like to focus on the Helpers – the firemen, police, rescue workers,doctors, medical personnel,volunteers, neighbors, who are out directing traffic, checking on people, sawing trees, helping clean up, making sure everyone is safe.
So never underestimate how powerful it is for our children to know, and to feel, that the adults in their life are “in control” of the situation.
Making the “secure place” your family goes to during storm emergencies a very familiar spot, one that has cozy items there, some books, some snacks, and is a given that this is where your family goes to be safe can be very comforting for children.
Bruce Perry, an internationally recognized authority on the impact of stress and any kind of trauma in children, suggests letting your child be your guide as to how much information and conversation you offer. Try not to overexpose your child to constant TV coverage or to overhearing excess conversation among adults that can keep the stress and anxiety high.
Listening to your child if he has questions and comforting, without avoiding or over-reacting, will have a postive effect on your child’s ability to cope.
Providing a consistent, predictable pattern for your family during this time especially is very significant. If there are changes that need to be made, spend the time to inform your child about what will be happening differently and who will be there to be with him.
We all may need a few extra hugs this week, a few more helping hands, more requests to be carried, more time spent close.
Make sure you get some of this “comfort” for yourself.
If you have any questions or concerns about how to answer your child’s anxiety or behavior, give me a call at The Parenting Place a call – 874-8125. I’d be most happy to help you with your concerns.