I have spoken with a couple of schools that are dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and I started thinking about what I could do to help so I am writing to offer some tips when you are dealing with disasters and small children.
It is especially difficult for children as they do not understand what is going on. They feel scared, insecure, guilty, sad and even angry. Your center is a source of normalcy for them after this disaster but I am sure you are overwhelmed too. Your lives have been turned upside down and it is your job to bring peace and normal back to these children. So I am providing a couple of resources to help in this time of rebuilding. My heart is heavy as I think about the loss you are dealing with from Harvey.
It is important to bring routine back in their lives. Routines are calming and establish a sense of safety. Seeing your smiling and reassuring face everyday brings back a sense of normalcy in their lives. I know this may be difficult because I am sure you too have experienced loss too. This will help you rebuild your life as well.
Know that it is normal for children to be more aggressive, withdrawn and upset because they have most likely suffered significant losses and may be displaced from their homes. It is your role to comfort them and try to understand their feelings. Help them verbalize those thought and fears.
How can you do this?
1) Establish safety and control
2) Maintain routines
3) Accept all reactions
4) Help children move toward positive actions
5) Help children understand and learn from the disaster
6) Encourage creativity
How can you help yourself?
1) Talk to friends and family and even professionals that support your life and work
2) Create a positive atmosphere around your colleagues. Offer to help each other.
3) Talk to you colleagues and learn from each other.
4) Be patient in your own recovery
Children ages 1 to 5 are probably the most vulnerable and find it the most difficult to adjust to change and loss because they have not developed coping skills. They must depend on parents, family members and you, their teacher, to help them through this disaster. They may regress and begin sucking their thumbs, wetting the bed and fear the “monsters” gain. They may become clingy and attached to security items like blankets and safe places. Know that changes in eating and sleeping patterns are common too and it will take time to readjust. It is your job to bring a sense of safety to their lives. They may also have unexplainable aches and pains and tell exaggerated stories.
Reassurance is the key to helping children cope with the tragedy. Lots of cuddling and answering questions are important. Encourage children to express themselves in words, artwork, and acting. Talk about what they are seeing on TV or in the streets. Try and point out the good things such as all the people coming to help and the heroes that have saved lives and brought food and water.
I hope this helps in some small way and know that you are all still in my thoughts and prayers. I will continue to pass on anything I can find to help you in this time of need.
Here are some other resources if you need more help.
National Child Traumatic Stress
NetworkWeb Site: www.nctsn.org
National Association of School Psychologists
Phone: (301) 657-0270
Web Site: www.nasponline.org/NEAT
Coping with Disasters/NAEYC
Resources for this article
Tips for Talking to Children and Youth After Traumatic Events
Tips to Help Children Cope With Disasters
I am an educator in every facet of my life. I teach early childhood education in the classroom and online as well as develop online training and professional development for employers. I also teach homeschoolers literature and homeschool my 17 year old son who graduates in May.