Psychologist offers tips to help children cope with aftermath of Hurricane Irma
Families are slowly trying to return to normalcy after the devastating Hurricane Irma. As power is restored, schools reopen next week and the clean-up continues, Jonathan Comer, professor of psychology and psychiatry at FIU, offers tips for parents to help children adjust and ease back into daily routines.
- Praise your child for being so brave this past week.
- Follow your child’s lead. Don’t force your child to talk.
- Help your child focus on the positive. There are so many inspiring acts of heroism in the storm’s aftermath. Consider working with your child to make thank you cards for the first responders.
- Monitor your own emotions. Kids take cues from their parents and they will be very interested in how you are coping with everything that is going on.
- Return to their normal routines as soon as possible. Following hurricanes and other natural disasters, children are comforted by familiarity, predictability and structure. Canceling activities can add further disorganization and disruption.
- Monitor and limit exposure to ongoing hurricane-related news. Although we can’t tune all of it out, viewing extensive coverage of the storm’s damage and destruction can be very distressing for kids.
- Guide your child to focus on ways they can help. Donating toys and clothes to kids who may have lost more in the storm, or helping elderly neighbors rake and sweep their yards are good examples.
- Keep an eye out for sudden changes in your child’s behavior and mood. Although many kids will be naturally curious and concerned following a storm as disruptive and overwhelming as Irma, abrupt onset of nightmares, bedwetting, crying spells, excessive reassurance seeking, clinginess or acting out can be signs that your child may benefit from professional help.
Comer has conducted extensive research on the psychological impact traumatic events on youth, including the Boston Marathon bombing and the September 11 attacks. As director of the Mental Health Interventions and Technology Program at FIU’s Center for Children and Families, he conducts research on expanding the quality, scope and accessibility of mental health care for youth. Much of his work examines children’s media-based exposure to traumatic events and how caregivers can best discuss frightening world events with their children.
If you think your child may be struggling in dealing with a traumatic situation, contact the Center for Children and Families at 305-348-0477 for help.