Now that we Houstonians have emerged from the shock of our city’s devastating flood and moved on to repair and recovery, we need to be aware of some post-disaster issues in our midst. A large swath of the Gulf Coast just experienced a collective trauma, affecting everything from our homes and neighborhoods to our schedules and health. As resilient as they are, our children are not immune to the effects of the damage and disruption.
Some of the flood effects are already buzzing around us, or will be soon. Children should wear mosquito repellant to prevent mosquito bites and mosquito-borne illness as the insects hatch from standing water. Children with asthma may be sensitive to the dust, mold, and cleaning and disinfecting solutions hanging in the air.
Turn Off the News
Emotionally, children of different ages will process the event differently. Keep in mind that young children can’t reliably distinguish between real-time news and retrospective reporting. If they see footage of flooding from two weeks ago, they may feel frightened because they think it is happening again now, or they may think that the reports from Florida are from their area. Sometimes it is helpful just to turn off the news.
It is normal for younger, less verbal children to regress. A preschooler whose family is still displaced may have bedwetting or tantrums, for example. School-age children are more rational, but still concrete in their reasoning. They may benefit from seeing their home repairs in progress and getting back on a structured schedule. They may also be tearful and moody as they cope with the day-to-day headaches of living with another family or having their sports canceled. It is important to listen empathically to their concerns. Older children and teens, who have a broader sense of community, can lend a hand with clean up and volunteer efforts, but make sure they are kept out of harm’s way – sharp debris, fumes from home restoration and damaged electrical wiring can all pose hazards.
You Set the Tone
Children perceive the stress their parents are feeling and take emotional cues from the adults around them. Parents can help set the tone by acknowledging that a huge disruption has taken place, focusing on the positive and providing a sense of perspective. When parents accept support and take care of themselves, they are better equipped to help their children.
Dr. Suzanne Condron is a board-certified pediatrician at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic – Fort Bend Medical and Diagnostic Center whose clinical interests include obesity, nutrition, allergies, asthma, childhood development, literacy, infectious diseases and preventive medicine.