By Lilly Watson
Tuesday’s forecast of thunderstorms quickly turned into devastation for many families in our area. Looking at this weekend’s forecast and seeing storm clouds on Sunday’s horizon is a nerve-wracking feeling for all of us, most especially those families still dealing with the destruction of Tuesday’s tornadoes.
“To be completely honest, the absolute first feeling for many of these families is sheer terror,” Richard said. “There is a real concern about it all happening again. The second reaction is usually, ‘What can we do to prepare?”
Richard’s biggest advice to families asking this question is to remember their family safety plan. If families do not have a safety plan, the time between storms is when one should be put in place.
“Parents will be very concerned about their children,” Richard explained. “and it is extremely important that we help them feel safe.”
Richard went on to explain the ways that Red Cross mental health workers prepare families, especially those with children, on how to stay safe and feel secure at the onset of a second series of storms.
- Make a family safety plan. Involve children at every age level in these preparations, with their tasks and involvement depending on their age. Keep an open dialogue about what is expected and what you are doing to stay safe.
- Red Cross mental health workers do not recommend that adults tell children that it will not happen again, since there is no way of knowing what will or will not happen. Letting children know that parents are doing everything possible to stay safe is honest and also comforting.
- Put things in the safety kit that are nostalgic and/or important to children, such as a favorite stuffed animal or photo. These can be just as important to children as medications or financial documents can be for adults.
- Children tend to worry about other people. Try to keep contact with family, friends and neighbors as you prepare for storms and after they hit. This can be difficult, but it thankfully becomes easier through mobile phones, email and Skype.
- Include family religion and/or spirituality in your conversations if that is an important part of your family’s dynamic.
- Nothing can shatter a routine faster than a tragic disaster. Routine, however, is a powerful coping skill and important to children. Attempting to maintain any semblance of a routine can be immensely comforting to a child.
- Many children want to be physically close to their family or adults after a disaster. Being open to this closeness instead of punishing a child for being “clingy” can be a very comforting feeling for a child.
I asked Richard what last piece of advice he would give to every parent in a disaster situation if he was able to. His response was simple: never be shy about asking for help, especially in a situation such as this.
“When a child sees a parent asking for help and not being afraid to get assistance, they will learn to be equally open with their parents.”
We cannot control where the weather goes, but the Red Cross does work to prepare families for disasters in all areas – including mental health and well being. To learn more about Red Cross mental health services, click here.