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How to talk to your kids about natural disasters

By September 12, 2017

USA (MNN) — Hurricane Irma struck the Caribbean islands, Cuba, and then Florida over the weekend. The storm’s death toll currently stands at 25 killed in the Caribbean, 10 in Cuba, and four in Florida. As Irma barrelled through Florida, it left 60 percent of the state without power.

Hurricane Irma’s visible path. (Photo courtesy of Cayobo via Flickr https://flic.kr/p/XTVkqG)

With Irma’s predecessor Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Jose not far behind, and major flooding meanwhile devastating South Asia, natural disasters have eaten up our newsfeeds. We’ve talked about how kids in disaster zones are being affected, but what about kids outside the disaster zones who hear what’s on the news and are still impacted?

Bethany Christian Services says, in particular, children who have been adopted from international countries may be experiencing some anxiety at this time related to the recent natural disasters. Catherine Lafler says Bethany is currently talking with adoptive families on how to address the needs of their kids.

“Children who have been placed internationally have experienced loss and trauma in their lives by the very nature of being adopted. So sometimes natural disasters when they’re seen on the news, when we talk about them in public, when it’s talked about at school or at home or at church it can trigger for those children a lot of memories of previous experiences.

(Photo courtesy of Bethany Christian Services via Facebook)

“Bethany is hoping to wrap around our children who have been adopted, help share information with their families [on] how they can talk about it [and] help children a little bit more in terms of the impact these natural disasters have and the memories it brings back up.”

Here are some tips for parents on a post-trauma response:

“We don’t always know the full history of our children. They were placed in orphanages and the information may be scarce because of the lack of system in place. So one of the things we’ve been talking to our families about is to expect the unknown, to know that there may be things that we don’t know about our children’s history and sometimes these events can trigger memories or concerns that we didn’t know that our children had.”

Lafler says parents can look for changes in behavior, whether the child is more reclusive or acting out more, to see if they are feeling stressed or anxious about the news of these disasters.

In addition to internationally adopted kids, there’s also the impact to consider on children who have family and friends in the natural disaster zones, children who feel close to the disaster in some way, and children who are hearing the natural disaster news discussed in their circles.

“We’re encouraging our families to talk to our children, not just to expose them to the news and assume that they’ll follow it the way that we do, to be very clear with things like the storm isn’t going to come here,” she says.

“We’re also asking families to be mindful that they may have fears about those families that are still at home also. Some of our children will have family, friends, relatives, they may be concerned about other children in the orphanages, so we recommend some talking and some support around that also.”

One big thing that can be helpful is to point kids towards the restoration and recovery efforts being made and to see how they can even be part of the solution.

  1. Pray openly with your kids for those impacted by recent natural disasters.
  2. Have your kids pick a charity to give to for disaster relief.
  3. Get your kids involved in a donation drive or fundraising effort for disaster recovery.

“It may be that part of a recovery tool for some of these children is some outreach, you know, faith through doing, faith through action.”

Ultimately, Lafler says it about keeping the communication lines open with our kids and making it a conversation. Then, whatever their fears and worries, point them to the God of all comfort and even how they can be the hands and feet of Christ in the situation.

“I think most importantly for our children, it’s watching and observing them, talking them through what’s happening, staying patient and calm and keeping routines, making sure they’re well regulated. And if you become concerned about your children’s emotions, thinking about therapeutic support, first of all. But if this has been something that hasn’t been a severe trauma trigger…and it’s more just this call and desire to help, then a small project of some sort giving back, that may well be something that could help in healing.”

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