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Helping Children Cope in the Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy

Sesame Street, Hurricane Sandy, Children's Health

The winds and rain may be gone, but Hurricane Sandy is still very much having an impact on the Eastern coast. Many cities were flooded, power outages continue to be widespread, and many homes were damaged. As adults, we have learned a little over the years about how to cope with tragedies, but what about our children? The Sesame Street Workshop is offering a “Hurricane Kit” to help parents talk to children on their level about severe weather and natural disasters.

The SuperStorm first made landfall in New Jersey, so it, consequently, was the state hardest hit. Over 2 million customers remain without power, and some cities and towns are underwater. But of course, many people in Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina were affected as well. There are many who have been displaced from their homes and are temporarily living in shelters. Some families have lost loved ones to the storm.

Young children may not fully understand what is going on around them, so Big Bird and his friends at Sesame Street offer parents some tips on helping children through this difficult time:

1. Give Children the Facts. Yes, they are children, but they still would like real answers to what is happening. They might not really grasp exactly what a hurricane is, so explain that to them on their level like this: A hurricane is a big storm with a lot of wind and heavy rain. It can be scary, but adults will do their best to keep children safe. The National Weather Service has an activity book starring Owlie Skywarn that may be helpful as well. FEMA has an excellent children’s website as well to help parents explain what to do before, during and after an emergency.

2. Comfort Your Children. Obviously, you should calm yourself first, since children can often ready your facial cues and body language. Reassure your children that what happened is not their fault (children often feel they are to blame when bad things happen) and that you love them and will help take care of them.

3. Listen and Talk to Your Children. If they feel like talking about it, let them express their feelings the best way they know how and let them know it’s okay to feel that way. But if they don’t feel like talking quite yet, don’t force them. Children, like adults, all deal with events differently, and no one way is right or wrong.

4. Try to Keep a Normal Routine. Obviously, this is quite difficult if you are displaced from your home, school is closed, or you have no power. But as much as possible, try to keep a daily routine that includes the kids’ favorite activities.

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5. Spend Time with Your Children. You may have a million and one things to do, from contacting your insurance company to cleaning up damage. But take time out to spend time with your children. Just a smile, a laugh, and a hug can help a child feel safe.

6. Pay Attention to Signs of Stress. These include nightmares, bed-wetting, aggression, inattentiveness, and clinging behavior. If you notice such signs, please talk to a health care provider, teacher, school counselor, or mental health provider.

7. Monitor Media Use. Avoid having your child watch repeated images of Sandy’s devastating effects. Young children, in particular, may not realize this is a replay of events, and may think the disaster is happening again, which can be very frightening. Also, today is Halloween, a day when we normally go around scaring each other. This might not be the best year to watch horror movies or pull pranks.

8. Empower Your Children. If you and your children have been directly affected, you can give them simple chores and responsibilities to help them maintain a sense of control. This can build their self-confidence and help them conquer their fears. Children not directly affected may still want to be involved somehow, so perhaps tonight while trick or treating, they can collect donations for those that were in the Hurricane’s path and give it to an organization such as the Red Cross.

9. Take Care of Yourself. Just like on an airplane, in an emergency, you put on your mask first before you help others. You are more helpful to your children when you’ve attended to your own physical and emotional needs. Get support from family and friends, stay active, get plenty of rest, eat healthfully, and continue to do things you enjoy, like reading or gardening.

10. Inspire a sense of Hope. Explain to your children that things may have changed – this could be especially true for families who visited heavily affected areas such as Ocean City MD or Atlantic City NJ – but we still have our memories. And we can go forward to build new memories. If children have lost a loved one, they may need some grief counseling to get through the days ahead.

Visit www.sesamestreet.org for more tips and activities for children who may need more age-appropriate resources to help cope with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

Sesame Workshop
ABC News: Hurricane Sandy Aftermath, Updates State by State
National Weather Service

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