It’s no secret that Bartlesville has very close ties with Houston. Many local corporations and employers, such as ConocoPhillips, Phillips66, Truity and more are headquartered in Houston or have a sizeable presence there. But our link goes deeper than office space and corporate jet commutes. Our community watched the unfolding Hurricane Harvey coverage with real people in mind – former neighbors, previous teachers, close friends and family members. Some watched their old neighborhoods engulfed by floodwaters and hardly recognizable. Others watched and worried about old friends who have relocated to those neighborhoods.
We know the days and weeks ahead will create many opportunities – big and small – for our community to help our friends in Houston. But today, as with any tragedy, the little eyes and ears among us are absorbing the coverage, conversations and concerns. How can we help our children understand one of the nation’s largest natural disasters in history while limiting their distress?
According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), caregivers need to understand what impact the disaster media exposure can have on children and find ways to communicate openly and calmly. NCTSN tells us that the more time children spend watching coverage of the hurricane, the more likely they are to have negative reactions like fear and anxiety, and graphic images may be particularly upsetting. Very young children may not understand that the coverage and repetition of images from an earlier or past event is a replay. They may think the event is continuing to happen or is happening again.
Here are some ideas of how you can help your child process through the hurricane coverage:
- Limit your child’s exposure to the disaster coverage or be sure to always watch alongside your child to ease any fears or answer any questions. You may choose to eliminate all exposure for very young children.
- Discuss the news stories with them, asking about their thoughts and feelings about what they saw, read or heard. Be available to talk about their feelings, thoughts and concerns. Reassure children of their safety and of your plans to keep them safe.
- Don’t presume you know what your children are thinking. Ask questions to find out if your children understand the situation accurately – they may think they are at risk when they are not. Ask if they are worried and discuss those worries with them, reassuring them as needed.
- Be careful what you and other adults say about the hurricane or the media coverage in front of children. Children often listen when adults are unaware and may misconstrue what they hear.
- You may want to share positive media images, such as reports of families safely sheltered or stories of people or animals brought to safety. Reassure your children that many people and organizations are working together to help the Houston community. This will give them a sense that adults are actively taking steps to protect those in need.
- Learn about children’s common reactions to hurricanes or other natural disasters. Children are resilient and cope well, but some may have continuing difficulties. These reactions vary with age and exposure to the event.
Each family’s connection to Houston is different and each child will react to Hurricane Harvey news differently. If a family is newly transferred to Bartlesville from Houston, that child may have watched the destruction of the only home, school and community he/she has ever known. If you are someone who routinely travels to Houston for work, it would not be uncommon for your child to have some concerns about you leaving for work, especially when your travel schedule resumes.
If you are someone who works with children, understand many may need extra comfort or grace in these coming weeks. Finding out Grandma’s home was destroyed or a former favorite park is gone can be very challenging for children to process. Teachers, coaches and mentors may need to be cautiously watching because impacted children may not verbalize the root problem initially. In the coming weeks, parents may be leaving to go help loved ones with cleanup and recovery, which can impact a child’s regular routine and leave them feeling uneasy. Trusted adults can help by listening to the child’s concerns and providing consistent reassurance.
While some of us may not be directly impacted or even have friends or family directly impacted, all of us hurt for those suffering such immense loss. Take this opportunity to talk to your children about empathy, compassion and how friends from Houston may be feeling. Keep in mind a simple hug and just knowing a friend cares can make a big impact…whether you are 7 or 70.