To help, Chicago-based therapists Julianne Neely and Ritamaria Laird of Individual & Family Connection share below ten ways to limit the trauma for kids impacted by natural disaster.
1. Soothe the brain with sensory experiences.
Sing, play, snuggle. Soothe the scared brain with sensory experiences such as rocking, singing, snuggling, calming images, baby massage, and rhythmic clapping games such as patty cake, miss mary mack, and slide, slide, slippery slide.
2. Give them a cohesive narrative to make sense of their about their experience.
“When the hurricane came, the water was rising, the rain was loud, you had to leave your favorite things behind to go to the shelter and it was so confusing!”
3. Always emphasize how you keep them safe.
“Mama carried you and held your hand so that you were always close. We brought you here to keep you safe from the water.” Point out all the helpers and how you see the community coming together to help each other and keep each other safe.
4. Validate that it was scary. Validate that it’s hard.
“I know it was so scary and hard to leave our home and come to this new place.
5. Listen a lot.
Encourage them to share, but don’t push if they are not ready. “I am so proud of you for telling me about your feelings.”
6. Give them tons of empathy.
“I know, it’s so hard to be away from our home and our stuff. I miss it too.”
7. Encourage them to play.
Children work though hard moments though playing them out. Let them play, play, play.
8. Most importantly, remind them that you’re here, you will protect them, and whatever they are feeling is okay.
9. Don’t let age fool you, even babies are affected by natural disasters.
Provide them with the above tips as well.
10. Pay attention to signs of Developmental Trauma Disorder or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, even long after event.
Signs include behavior changes, nightmares, frequently playing out themes of the event, fears of being separated from their caregiver, and ongoing worries about a reoccurrence about the traumatic event. Get involved in therapy if you notice these signs, the sooner the better, but it’s never too late.