Disclosure :: this post is sponsored by Children’s Hospital of New Orleans.
Helping Children Cope After the Flood
As the waters begin to recede and the great cleanup begins, the hard emotional work is also beginning for parents and children of south Louisiana. It can be understandably difficult for parents to maintain a sense of normalcy when life is now so different. How a child reacts depends on the level of stress they’ve experienced (having their home flood vs. hearing about the flood), and they will take their cues from adults as to how to cope. Parents should understand that feelings of sadness, difficulty sleeping, physical aggression, emotional outbursts, regression to “babyish” behaviors and increased distractibility can all be signs of stress and loss.
Here are some tips for families:
Take time to check in with children to see what they understand about the flood.
Give them time to ask questions, and be honest about what you don’t know. Keep in mind children’s developmental level and individual differences. Explanations should be kept at a child’s level of understanding, so ask questions to make sure you understand and are addressing specific concerns. Don’t be surprised to have these conversations many times, as a child may have a different perception or questions in the future.
Look for feelings behind the words and reactions and give those feelings a name.
“It’s really sad and frustrating not to be able to go back to our house right now.” You may notice a child playing out what happened in the flood with toys or in drawings, as a way to process it. Talk with your child about what kinds of things help her feel better when she’s experiencing challenging feelings.
Don’t force a child to talk if they don’t want to…
But let them know you are here for him when he would like you to listen. If he talks about what he misses or is worried about, validate that concern even if it might seem minor. Children need to talk about their losses without people saying, “Yes, but…” Gratitude is important, but so is the need to grieve.
Give reassurance about your children’s safety.
Point out how much people have helped each other in various ways in recent days. Encouraging kindness and being helpful to others can also be healing.
So children are not exposed to the continual replay of images of devastation.
Enroll children in school as soon as possible.
Establish routine and a semblance of normalcy to their days. Parents might expect children to need extra time and compassion after spending the day at a new school.
Maintain regular mealtimes and bedtimes.
Even if routines have been disrupted, try to make sure children are getting basic needs met by having regular mealtimes and bedtimes. Try and retain some small daily rituals from “before,” such as telling a favorite bedtime story or singing a familiar song.
- Zero to Three has additional resources for parents of infants and toddlers.
- A free app, Help Kids Cope, provides advice for helping preschoolers, school age kids, and adolescents.
- The Centers for Disease Control offer an excellent workbook for children coping with the flood aftermath.
Children are more likely to be resilient if their caregivers are feeling supported. If parents are looking for therapeutic help for themselves or their children, some resources include Capital Area Human Services (225-925-1906 // 866-628-2133) and Family Service of Greater Baton Rouge (225-924-0123).
About Lisa Phillips, MSW, LMSW
Lisa Phillips, MSW, LMSW, is a social worker and has been a Parent Educator at The Parenting Center at Children’s Hospital since 2001. She received her BA from Occidental College in Los Angeles and her MSW from Tulane University. She is the mother of two teenagers.