The first anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, the storm that devastated parts of New York City and New Jersey last fall, raises questions about how to help children cope. Advice has commonly applied to youngsters older than age 5, with little discussion about helping younger ones. Attention should be also paid not only to youngsters who were directly affected, but others far away who may hear about the disaster in school or from peers or extensive media coverage.
To help parents deal with young children during the one-year anniversary of the storm, here's my advice:
- Stay away from sadness. Unless the child asks, consider not bringing up the subject of the storm, or asking (as you might with older children), "What do you remember?" or "How do you feel about what happened last year?" Traumas can affect children at any age, but memories of the storm can pass and children's attention switches easily. As one father told me, "Why would I want to expose my child to any negativity at this young age when he'll have enough of that all through his life?" In contrast, adults commonly experience "anniversary reactions" on marker dates of either happy or sad occasions, when processing feelings and thoughts can be very helpful.
"It's everyone's own choice," says Nicole Romano-Levine who is bringing her children to the memorial she is organizing. "Kids can feel good being in a group," she asserts. "It helps them know we survived and that 'We made it'!"
Seek professional help for any concerns. Some youngsters, especially those still not back in their homes long after the storm, have nightmares, school phobia and other fears. One parent, still living in temporary housing after the family home was destroyed, is at her wits' end with her child continually crying himself to sleep and asking, "Why can't we go home mommy?" Contact local community centers for referrals to child psychologists and family counselors. Getting support for you and your child is always a good idea to insure good health.