Grown ups can help kids deal with feelings about the storm

Published 2:21 am Wednesday, September 29, 2004

By By ANNA M. LEE Managing Editor
Everyone, young and old, has been affected in some way by Hurricane Ivan and its aftermath. The good news is that young children are not likely to be emotionally disturbed by the disaster, according to Dr. Robert DeFrancisco, a psychologist at Brewton Medical Center.
As children model their caregivers, DeFrancisco said, children in the presence of calm and rational adults are more likely to handle a crisis like this well. On the other hand, frustrated and stressed caregivers can make for upset children.
Family counselor Dr. Tommy Smith with Pathways Professional Counseling in Brewton agrees that some kids may be traumatized by an event like Ivan, especially those who are around adults who are openly upset.
Smith said that adults usually process their feelings by talking, but children are more likely to process through play. To help children deal with what they've experienced as a result of Ivan, parents and other caregivers can talk to children about their fears, listen to them and encourage them to get out and play.
DeFrancisco advises that if children are frightened or worried, parents should handle it by reassuring them and explaining that things will be o.k. Parents should be honest about the possibility if serious natural disasters, explaining to children that an event like this is always possible, but very, very unlikely and rare.
DeFrancisco also says that in good times and bad, caregivers and children should spend time together -- at least 15 minutes a day -- talking, reading, listening to the radio or playing games.
Smith suggests that during this time of stress, as early as possible, adults should talk to children about the storm, and let them tell their stories.
In fact, returning to school this week has given children a chance to share their storm stories with each other through story-telling and art. According to Smith, sharing at school can be like group therapy or "stress debriefing" for children.

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