You don't have to be perfect to be the perfect parent!

Hurricane Isaac…it can affect us all.

Talking to your child about events like Hurricane Isaac can help reduce their stress and develop their empathy. 

As I sit listening to the news and the many hardships of our American brothers and sisters that have been in harm’s way with the recent hurricane, I realize that many of our children are hearing the very same news.  Some of our children are in the midst of the hardships.  What can we do as parents when our children experience or are exposed to the realities of tragedy in our world?  With the instant news that surrounds us now via TV, radio, the internet, and smart phones, we and our children are bombarded with information and some of it is scary and tragic.  What effect does this have on our kids?  How can we help our kids cope…and then develop the empathy and fortitude to reach out and help? 

1.      I think we need to be honest…always.  When our children are feeling anxious or sad about what they have heard via a news outlet or what they have heard through adult conversations, we must address it.  We can’t push it under a rug and tell them that all will be fine, but we should not give them more information than they need.  Answer their questions honestly and briefly.  If they are worried about their own safety, reassure them that you will keep them as safe as possible.

2.      Listen to what your child is feeling.  Give your child time to talk about why they are feeling scared or anxious.  By listening, you can tell what your child really needs.  Do they need to understand what happened?  Do they want to know if it could happen to them?  Do they want to know what they can do to help?  Listen carefully and see what they need before you answer.

3.      Have a plan always.  Being prepared decreases your anxiety and your child’s.  If your child asks “What will we do if this happens?”  Talk about the plan… “We have a weather radio, when the radio tells us the storm is near we will head to the basement to be safe.”  “We are packing up and heading to a safe place, what do you think you should bring?”  “Here is our disaster box, see we have food, a first aid kit, flashlights…we are prepared and I will keep you as safe as I can…I promise.” 

4.      Talk about your feelings too.  A child hearing that their parents are affected by what is going on reassures them that their own feelings are normal.  Your child picks up on your anxiety, fear or worry…even if you don’t verbalize it.  Let your child know how you feel and what you do when you are scared or worried.  How you model your coping mechanisms sends a huge message to your child.

5.      Children who are anxious or scared feel better with play.  Let your child play or be creative to express their feelings.  Many times a child can’t put their fears into words, but they can act them out through play or creativity.  Give them tools to draw pictures or paint, let them play with their stuffed animals or dolls, let older children journal or write stories…handling emotions through play and creativity allows a child to express them and work through them.

6.      Do something positive as a family.  Children are very empathetic beings…and that empathy can be fostered at a very young age.  Make plans as a family to somehow provide support for those who are hurting.  Your child can participate in small ways, and this can have long lasting effects.  Parents modeling empathy for others and then providing the opportunity for their child to actually practice it is the best way to guide a child to incorporate a “caring and giving” mentality.  We all are responsible for caring for our brothers and sisters in times of need.

7.      Limit the amount of media exposure of your child to the tragedy.  Children have a difficult time interpreting the information they see repeatedly on the TV.  Watching the event over and over often escalates anxiety.  Young children may not even understand that the event is not happening over and over again.  Even older children may need help understanding the graphic reporting that is so predominant in today’s media coverage. 

8.      Remember that some children, especially children that are close to the tragedy, may need additional help dealing with the event.  Watch your child for changes in sleep, appetite, or mood…be sure that you seek help for your child if you suspect continued anxiety. 

There are other resources that give parents tips on how to handle the stress that come with tragedy and disaster that hits close or even far from home.  These websites may be helpful. 

As I sit in my dry kitchen, drinking my coffee and looking at the sunshine…my heart goes out to those families struggling through the hurricane.  My prayers are with them and especially the children who are struggling, but I know through the kindness and support of all of us, those children can move on from this and become stronger. 

Take a breath, enjoy the joyful moments of each day, and remember you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect parent.



AmericanAcademy of Pediatrics: www.healthychildren.org

American Psychological Association: www.apa.org

 “A National Tragedy: Helping Children Cope” from the National Association of School Psychologists: www.nasponline.org/resources/crisis_safety/terror_general.aspx

“Coping with a Tragedy Talking to Kids About the News”

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