Your child may continue to be fearful following hurricanes Katrina and Rita because of the uncertainty of your future. A child can mix up real fear and make-believe fear. This is OK, according to LSU AgCenter family professor Dr. Rebecca White.
Parents can help their children in a number of ways. White advises not to leave your child alone in a new place; stay together to assure that your child you won’t go away. Explain the disaster, and let your child know you were afraid, too.
Your child will be comforted by things that are familiar. If possible, get copies of photos from family and friends and try to replace your child’s lost stuffed animals.
Allow your child to talk about the disaster, but do not force it. When discussing it, stress that he or she is now safe - over and over, as necessary.
White says to talk with your child while holding the youngster, say it’s okay to be afraid, be quiet and listen.
Strictly supervise and limit your child’s viewing of the disaster on television and other media. Repeated viewing of disaster scenes can be distressing for children. If possible, when your child is watching television, discuss the programs you see.
Expect greater difficulty at times of separation (leaving for school, bedtime) and offer extra reassurances. Let your child know where you are. Daytime phone calls can help comfort your child.
Keep working to make things better. With safety in mind, let your child help clean up. Don’t stop doing things to make your conditions better. Don’t give up. Structure your day with order as best you can.
"Children need structure," White explains, advising, "Talk to your child about your family plans each day. Stay close together."
Bedtime may be bad for your child. Your child may need to sleep near you. Your child may be fearful of the dark. Your child may begin to wet the bed again or have bad dreams.
"Tell your child why it gets dark," White advises, adding, "Talk about your child’s dreams, praise your child for good things."
White says not to yell at or spank your child. Agree on a time for your child to go to bed. If your child is sleeping in another room, leave the door slightly open. Leave the light on if necessary.
Read to your child. Tell your child a story about something good that happened that day. If you stay concerned about your child, seek support. School counselors and clergy can assist you in finding professional help. Remember, this is a hard time for you, too.
During the hurricane recovery time, you may be concerned about how your child will be cared for. Where will your children be secure? Who will watch them as you deal with cleanup, repairs or while you are contacting agencies and organizations?
If your regular childcare arrangements are unavailable, check with churches, clergy, church members, childcare facilities, relatives, sitters or neighbors. After-school activities give the child a meaningful place to be and frees you to deal with the crisis.
Library programs, municipal recreation department events, 4-H clubs, boys and girls clubs, the YMCA, the YWCA and church youth groups are other alternatives. There even may be money available to help you pay for the care through the Louisiana Department of Social Services – Office of Family Support.
For information on related hurricane recovery topics, click on the links at the LSU AgCenter home page, at www.lsuagcenter.com. For local information and educational programs, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.