Talking to kids about Katrina

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 3, 2005

Staff report

The need to feel safe, to feel protected, is a basic need of childhood. The tragedy left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the resulting media coverage may leave your child with questions and real anxiety about hurricanes. Here, from Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, are some tips on talking to your child about Hurricane Katrina and hurricanes in general.

-Little children, around 5 and younger, don’t need to know about things like this. Wait for them to ask you about what happened. If they never ask, continue business as usual.

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-After age 7 or 8, children may need to have more in-depth explanations. Encourage your child to talk, and listen carefully to her so you can understand her perceptions of the event. Help her identify and label her feelings. Then address each issue in a way that reassures your child and reflects your family values.

-Older children are likely to approach you with questions. Or you can initiate a conversation by saying, &uot;I know you’re hearing and seeing a lot about what’s happening. How does this make you feel?&uot; Don’t prepare a big speech trying to explain it all to them. Answer their questions as they arise. Tell them what they need to know, when they need to know it.

-Limit the amount of time your child spends watching or listening to the news. It brings the event, and all of the emotions it engenders, right into your home. And when we sit glued to the news coverage of the hurricane’s aftermath it tells our children &uot;this is something mommy or daddy are really worried about, so I should probably worry about it, too.&uot; Watch the late news, after the children are in bed.

-Be careful what you say to other adults in front of your children. Kids pick up on everything.

-Children are very good at picking up on their parents’ worries. If you appear competent, confident and calm, it will go a long way toward easing their fears.

-If your child tells you she is frightened, tell her that it’s OK to feel afraid. Say something like, &uot;It’s normal to feel frightened. If I was your age, I’d be scared, too. But I’m older than you. I’ve seen lots of storms come and go. And I will always do everything I can to keep you safe.&uot;

-Part of what is most upsetting in a natural disaster like a hurricane is our loss of control over what happens to us and those we love. You can counteract this by helping your child focus on things over which he does have control. If a storm is forecast in your area and you’re heading out of town, let you child pick which toys or clothes to pack.

-Until things calm down, it will be normal for children to show signs of worry and fear. Just like many adults, they may have trouble eating or sleeping. Two weeks from now, if your child still isn’t eating or sleeping normally, or shows other warning signs such as extreme irritability, weepiness, lethargy and reluctance toward or fear of activities she once enjoyed, call your pediatrician.