Many of us are aware of the effects of Hurricane Harvey that the U.S. gulf coast states are currently experiencing. What you may not be as aware of is the fact that even those who are not directly affected by the storm can experience significant stress as a result of it.
Among those particularly susceptible to emotional stress resulting from natural disaster are children. It is important to note that even children who have not experienced the disaster, but simply learn of it, are susceptible for emotional challenges – similar to what we would expect if they actually experienced the disaster first hand. Some believe children experience significant levels of stress from learning of natural disasters because of their diminished ability to understand the geographical distance between the event and themselves. Others believe it is because they are still reliant on others to protect and care for them. Still others believe that children’s inability to understand the rarity of experiencing such a disaster. I believe it is a combination of all these factors and more. Children are naturally more empathetic than adults. (If you don’t believe me, just show a toddler a scrape you experienced and view his expression.)
Two researchers, Wahl-Alexander and Sinelnikov (2013), evaluated how best to help children handle the emotional stress of learning about a natural disaster. Their research suggested that a combination of physical activity and expression of a creative outlet such as art therapy (drawing a picture of their fears, etc.) was beneficial to helping children express and address these fears.
So, what do we do?
For those in harm’s way or effected by the storms, pray for their protection and a speedy and safe return to normal. Additionally, there will be many opportunities to help those affected by the storms. Simply select one that matches your abilities (maybe it is helping out physically, maybe it is helping out financially, or maybe it is just adopting a stranded pet temporarily), ensure that the effort is legitimate (unfortunately, disaster is a prime opportunity for unethical folks to take advantage of others), and get involved.
From a personal-care perspective, monitor the amount of time you spent viewing the news and media regarding the disaster. When viewed in moderation, such information is perfectly healthy and keeps us abreast of the latest events. However, when consumed in extreme amounts, significant emotional and physiological effects may occur. According to Mental Health Weekly Digest (October 25, 2010), “Trauma drama”, as this phenomenon has become identified, can result in increased levels of depression, anxiety, or increased stress.
For children who will learn about the effects of the storms, listen to the questions they ask and what they say. This is a clear indication that it is on their mind. For instance, my grandson recently learned about tornadoes. He had many questions about tornadoes and spoke frequently about them. In addition to the suggestions by Wahl-Alexander and Sinelnikov, you will need to listen to the child, understand what he or she knows (correct what is inaccurate – a lot of the scary stuff is in the fable and not in the facts) and discuss disaster preparation and what to do in an emergency. In the example of my grandson, my daughter worked with him to identify the tornado shelter at their home and they placed some toys and a favorite pillow in the tornado shelter to help make it “his”. This has worked tremendously to assuage his fears. Now, when he talks of the potential of a tornado, he describes their tornado shelter and the process they will follow if a warning occurs.
Job 42:10 (ESV) – And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.
Can ‘Trauma Drama’ Be Hazardous to Your Health?” Mental Health Weekly Digest, 2 5 Oct. 2010, p. 97. Opposing Viewpoints in Context, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A 240314074/OVIC?u=minn4020&xid=0badf218. Accessed 27 Aug. 2017.
Wahl-Alexander, Z., & Sinelnikov, O.A. (2013). Using physical activity for emotional recovery after a natural disaster. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 84(4), 23-28. doi:10.1080/07303084.2013.767729