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Supporting Children And Youth After A Natural Disaster

Natural disasters, such as the tornadoes we have just experienced in the Ottawa area, come as a shock and surprise to everyone! As we deal with the aftermath of these events, here are some things to keep in mind regarding children and youth.

1) Children and youth can be impacted by the news of the event. They can feel worried or scared that something will happen again. This often happens because their sense of safety has been impacted and you can listen for such statements as “I didn’t think this could happen where we live”, “will this happen again”, “I’m scared”.

2) You may see that they get a bit more clingy or emotional for the next little while, especially at night time or when the weather gets stormy

3) Sometimes children and youth can “regress” to behaviours of a younger age for a short period of time. This might mean that your school age child might start to suck their thumb again or your toddler who was toilet trained might start having accidents. This is a normal stress response and should go away once things settle down for them again.

4) Older children and youth may have questions or worries about safety, life/death etc. This may happen because the tornadoes have brought a reality of life to the forefront that they haven’t had to think about before. Answer their questions honestly but only provide the information they are asking for—sometimes as parents our tendency is to provide lots of information in an attempt to help our children/youth but too much information can be overwhelming.

5) Remember children/youth are very connected these days and so they will be hearing information about the tornadoes from many sources and often! As a parent, it will be useful to help your child/youth to look at ways to minimize how much information they hear about the tornado and possibly help with that task by doing things like turn the radio off in the car when the news comes on.

6) Be present for your child and let them talk to you about their thoughts, worries, fears. Let them know that those feelings are normal and make sense.

7) You may also have similar feelings about the tornado. Self care will be important so that you can support your child!

8) If your child continues to have difficulty coping or if you become worried about their response to the tornadoes, access some counselling support for them.

As a community, we are all working together to support everyone through this event! Know that help is available for your mental health needs as well!

-Written by Karen Moore MA, RSW Registered Social Worker at the Kanata Psychology and Counselling Centre

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