Licensed social worker Susan Rosen, a Red Cross volunteer in Louisiana from Bend, Ore., has been staying in shelters, including the nights of Isaac’s landfall, working with children and their families.
“I quickly try to assess whether they’re being re-traumatized from other disasters, what the impact has been on their family and especially the kids, and reassure them that they will make it through this,” Rosen said. “We forget kids are aware of what’s going on but don’t have the capacity to understand what’s happening.”
Children are among the most susceptible to such mental strain, because they experience traumatic events differently. Events such as Hurricane Isaac can leave children feeling frightened, confused and insecure, particularly since, for many children, this experience is not their first. Hundreds of families remain in shelters across Louisiana.
Because they can’t always talk about their worries, it sometimes comes out in their behavior, Rosen said. Children respond in different ways. Some may react immediately; others may be fine for weeks or months and then show troubling behavior. Knowing the signs that are common at different ages can help parents recognize problems and respond accordingly.
“They may be more agitated or act out; they may be more clingy or cry often; they may need more attention or reassurance from adults they trust,” Rosen said.
Scary memories become attached to the sounds, sights and smells that happen at the time of the experience. It’s important to remind children that they are remembering the scary thing that happened and that it is not happening now.
“Simple reminders to take a deep breath or unclench your jaw can help interrupt the re-experience of the trauma. Prompting the child to look around and name what they see and hear in the present helps them remember they are safe,” Rosen said.
Here are a few tips for talking to children after a traumatic event:
• Provide children with opportunities to talk
• Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t have all the answers
• Allow kids to discuss their fears and concerns
• Answer questions appropriate for their age
• Although the immediate event of Isaac has passed, the experience continues to have an impact on the residents. It’s important to remain observant and alert to problems people, including children, may be having, especially as hurricane season continues.
About the American Red Cross:
The Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies nearly half of the nation's blood; teaches lifesaving skills; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization — not a government agency — and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission.