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After the Storm: How to Talk to Kids about Disasters

PHOTO:Witnessing a destructive storm and its aftermath can be a terrifying experience for a child and an expert has tips for parents to help their child understand the situation. Photo of lightning. Courtesy NOAA.
PHOTO:Witnessing a destructive storm and its aftermath can be a terrifying experience for a child and an expert has tips for parents to help their child understand the situation. Photo of lightning. Courtesy NOAA.
November 19, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS - As Hoosiers pick up the pieces after a storm, spawning tornadoes, tore through their state Sunday, children witnessing the destruction may be trying to make sense of the situation. According to the president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute, Bill Stanczykiewicz, parents should, first and foremost, listen to the children, hear their concerns, and don't overreact.

"Let them know that feeling scared, feeling worried during a tornado or its aftermath is very natural," he suggested. "And if you feel some fear yourself, it's OK to let your child know. That's a very reassuring thing for a child to hear. Also to reassure them that you're going to be there with them along the way."

If kids are acting reserved, he suggested asking them questions about their day, or something else to get them talking, in case they are bottling up any anxieties.

Stanczykiewicz said some children internalize stressful feelings after a traumatic event, and that there are a combination of signs of stress a parent can look for.

"Children can become overly despondent, and not just normal sadness or whininess, but just a real heaviness," he said, adding that there are "kids who lose their appetite, kids who aren't able to sleep through the night, kids who are becoming very irritable, becoming very withdrawn."

Now that the tornadoes have come and gone, Stanczykiewicz said, it's a good time to teach children about service to others, whether it's raising money for those affected by the storms or sending thank-you notes to public safety workers.

"Giving kids something to do like that helps them feel a better sense of control, a better sense of calm that they're now being part of the solution despite all of the tragedy and destruction that they are seeing around them," he said.

On Monday, the National Weather Service confirmed that nine tornadoes had touched down in Indiana, but survey teams across the state are still working and gathering data. The storm system swept across six states, spawned more than 80 tornadoes and killed at least eight people.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IN