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Parents can help kids cope with natural disasters

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In Florence, debris could be seen swirling eerily through the stormy skies. The was over 600 lightning strikes throughout the tristate and sirens were screaming in several counties. Within minutes, the tornadoes and violent winds ripped entire communities to the ground. For some children, this chaos was more vivid and unstable than many of their worst nightmares.

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As of Saturday, March 3, 2012 at 6 PM, Weather.com reports there are at least 34 reported deaths across Indiana (14), Ohio (3), and Kentucky (17). Unfortunately, the number keeps rising. The damage from these storms is devastating in many areas, such as Henryville, Indiana, where an EF4 tornado destroyed the local Jr.- Sr. High School and across southeast communities like Bethel in Ohio and Piner, Kentucky, a town about 7 miles south of Florence.

Parents and caregivers should be aware that this kind of widespread tragedy, especially so close to home, may be very distressing for children, even if they were unharmed from it. Adults often don’t realize that children may become worried about friends and family members and the idea of death can become very real to them in an event like Friday’s storms across the tristate. According to The American Psychiatric Association’s website HealthyMinds.org, there are many ways to help children handle the trauma of a natural disaster:

  1. Be honest and open with children. Don't make unrealistic promises and don’t allow them to view images that are scary and or gruesome. These kind of images often further confuse the children. Encourage them to talk about their feelings and express their fears.
  2. Understand that children learn differently and accommodate their unique personalities. Parents and caregivers need to be ready to explain information several times, and parents need to be patient and understand that this is how children learn. Understand that, just because they are young doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t care about this tragedy. Talk to them at their level.
  3. Take this time to show positive aspects of the disaster to your child-- for example, the whole community comes together and people often help each other rebuild.
  4. As always, watch your own reactions and check your own behavior often. Kids take so many clues from the adults around them. If you act terrified and depressed, they probably will too.
  5. Watch your child’s physical symptoms. Sometimes, kids develop headaches and other pains when they become overly anxious. Call your doctor immediately if your child becomes consumed with these fears, especially if it begins disrupting his/ her sleep and/ or creates recurring fears that impact his/ her daily life, such as going to school or leaving you.

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