By Cherie L. Spehar, LCSW, CTC-S, RPT-S
The wake of Hurricane Sandy has presented monumental hardships for adults as well as younger family members across our country. As an eyewitness to this event, NJ author, Andi Green creator of The WorryWoo Monsters was prompted to team up with licensed Trauma Therapist and WorryWoo Emotional Wellness Advisor, Cherie Spehar of Smiling Spirit Pathways in Apex, NC, to create some helpful pointers for dealing with children who have been a bystanders of a family catastrophe.
How to help a child feel safe in the aftermath of trauma:
- An emotionally overwhelming response can continue to happen even after the initial event has passed. Therefore, limit re-exposure for the child to the event as best you can. This would mean trying to stay away from television footage, news reports, computers and other ways that a child could access the news.
- Providing a sense of structure, even in a chaotic environment can instill a sense of stability and calm despite chaos. While your routine may be completely changed, establishing some normal day to day activities will support a measure of predictability, even in a foreign environment.
- Children will ask many questions regarding what happened and why. One of the easiest ways to answer them will be by using honest, age appropriate language. Many words can add to confusion so keep it simple.
- Create sensory safety. When a child’s nervous system is revved up and finding difficulty calming down it is important to create a warm and comforting environment. Using sensory safety can make a huge difference in how a child is able to access inner resilience. Make sure to offer lots of hugs, opportunities to snuggle, while using sensory language to tune the child into the calmer feeling. For example, “How do mommy’s arms feel around you? Let’s listen to your heartbeat – is it slowing down? What does your tummy feel like now when we are safe in our snuggle?“ It is important to help a child connect his bodily response to the calming effects of connection. Favorite plush toys are also highly conducive to this same activity – “What does your lovey’s fur feel like now? Is it soft on your cheek?”
- Encourage expression of emotional feelings through play. As a child releases what they feel inside don’t be surprised if they re-enact the storm and its aftermath. If toys aren’t available make use of paper, crayons and even hands to help kids depict how they really feel.
Witnessing a great trauma such as Hurricane Sandy, whether first hand or on the television, can create feelings of fear and terror in children. And we as caregivers are the first ones that our children look to for help and safety. We would like to remind you to recognize that as parents and caregivers, you will also be experiencing your own trauma. Don’t forget to take care of yourselves in the process of caring for and recovering with your loved ones. Our hearts go out to all have been affected by this event, and it is our hope that these tips will help you through this experience with support and encouragement.
“Cherie is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Certified Trauma-Consultant-Supervisor, and Registered Play Therapist – Supervisor. She is founder and director of Smiling Spirit Pathways – The Apex Center for Trauma Healing in Apex, NC, and has dedicated her life to the emotional wellness of children, adults, and families