Karen Cassiday, PhD, is ADAA's current board president. Dr. Cassiday’s areas of interest are anxiety disorders in children and teens, social anxiety disorder, treatment-refractory OCD, and working with children and teens who suffer from both developmental concerns and anxiety disorders. Her research has focused on information processing in posttraumatic stress disorder and cognitive-behavioral treatment of anxiety disorders in children, teens, and adults.
No parent has adequate words to explain the destruction that nature causes. When our children ask us the big questions, such as “Why?” or “What is going to happen next?” after a flood, earthquake or hurricane has destroyed their home, community or disrupted daily life, adults can get stuck thinking that they have to provide an explanation for the unexplainable. What helps is to realize that what your child is really asking for is comfort and hope in a difficult time. This is something that you can provide, even when you are personally devastated by the same situation your child is experiencing.
- Reassure your children that you love them and that even though you may not know how your family will recover your home, property or daily schedule, that you most certainly will find a way to recover.
- Reframe the situation as an adventure, a challenge to see how you can make do with less, live like the pioneers and meet the daily challenges of living. Children who learn that stressors are opportunities develop resilience. Your children have the chance to learn that life can still be rich and good without power, without possessions, and that love, relationships and survival matter more than things and convenience.
- Read adventure stories to your kids about the pioneer children, about kids who go on epic journeys, and discuss how their situation is similar.
- Make comparisons of your life with people who live in dire situations and still find a way to thrive, get an education, have friendships and enjoy life.
- Emphasize to your children and have them recount each day the things to be grateful for in that day. Be sure to tell them the things that you are grateful for too so you can be a good role model. This helps them focus upon the blessings that each day offers rather than the deprivations. If you and your family enjoys writing or drawing, start a family gratitude journal in which you record your gratitude daily.
- Normalize the situation. Let your children know that what they feel is typical for anyone who shares their experience. Let them talk about their feelings and talk to others about their feelings without trying to make them feel better or by trying to stop their tears or sadness. Grief, anger and fear is a normal response to a natural disaster.
- Be resourceful and ask for help. Seek out the help of other survivors, of support professionals and of mental health professionals when you feel like you need support or your children need additional support. You will be glad you did.