Disasters, both nearby and far away, often cause stress, anxiety, and fear in children before, during, and long after an event occurs. The timing and widespread impacts of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma have many children all over the country feeling uneasy. This article will share ways to help children cope with a hurricane, identify ways children can help others, and provide a collection of ways teachers can support their students’ concerns about natural disasters and traumatic events.
WAYS TO HELP YOUR STUDENTS:
PROVIDE FREQUENT OPPORTUNITIES TO ASSESS HOW A CHILD IS FEELING
This is important to do at all times, but especially when a major event occurs that may cause additional stress. The way I have found to be most effective is to provide them with check-in slips to share how they are feeling. Students are often more likely to share things in writing than they are verbally.
I have created a free resource specifically for this purpose. You can access itby clicking here.
FOCUS ON THE POSITIVES
Obviously there is a lot of negativity and sadness. Families may lose homes. People may be injured. Hardships are caused. But, there is also a lot of positives in unfortunate situations such as a hurricane. Help your students to see and focus on the helpers. Discuss how communities are strengthened by neighbors working together. Talk about how volunteers come from all over the country to help with cleanup and to share their expertise in repairing roads, electricity, and more. Let them know about the collective efforts of people all over the country donating clothing, supplies, and raising funds to help.
HAVE YOUR STUDENTS WRITE LETTERS & MAKE CARDS
You can focus on a classroom or school that has been affected or you can send them to the responders who have helped those in need.
THINK ABOUT THE ANIMALS
Children connect well with pets and animals in general. Natural disasters and displaced family situations often leave our four-legged friends in need. There are organizations that help with pet adoption and care. Those may be good options for your students.
PLAN A FUNDRAISER TO HELP OTHER CHILDREN
Donorschoose.org is one of my favorite organizations because the money donated goes directly to a specific classroom. Do a search using the name of the hurricane (such as Irma or Harvey) and you will find teachers who have lost all of their teaching materials in flooded schools. Clothing drives and such are wonderful ideas, but it does take a lot of manpower to collect, send, sort, distribute, etc. the items. Raising funds and donating them is much more efficient and effective.
USE PICTURE BOOKS TO ALLOW CHILDREN TO MAKE CONNECTIONS
It is normal for children to be curious about what has happened. Often it is the unknown, and lack of information, that causes the most anxiety. Quality picture books are a wonderful way to help students connect to people, places, and eras in history that they would not otherwise experience. Sharing stories about the affected areas where a disaster has occurred enables them to make a connection and to feel empathy.
USE NONFICTION BOOKS TO LEARN FACTS THAT MAY PUT MINDS AT EASE
I readThe Wizard of Ozwith my 3rd grade class and paired it with a study of tornadoes. Living in the Northeast, it was comforting to know they are not typical in that region. If students are showing signs of worry about tsunamis, and you live in the Midwest, it will help to know that it is not a concern they need to have. Many students stress over earthquakes when they hear about them, yet they are not common in most parts of the country. Hurricanes come with a fair amount of warning time to prepare and it is possible to make a plan for a safe evacuation to stay out of harm’s way. Arming students with knowledge can be empowering.
USE HISTORICAL FICTION TO TAKE THEM BACK IN TIME TO SIMILAR EVENTS
There are many books in the historical fiction genre category that take children back to a place in time where people experienced an event. Look for titles with uplifting stories of survival.
USE MAPS TO SHOW THE DISTANCE BETWEEN THE STUDENT AND THE DISASTER AREA
A child’s “place in space” is a difficult concept for kids to understand. An event on the news that takes place halfway around the world or on the opposite side of the country may feel like it took place next door to a young child. Use maps, globes, and atlases to help students understand the distance as well as the geography that attributes to the likelihood of a disaster (for example: proximity to the ocean, flat open land, fault lines, winter climates).
COLLABORATE WITH YOUR SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGIST OR GUIDANCE COUNSELOR
The professionals within your building may be able to offer you additional resources and support. Some of your students may benefit from individual or small group sessions with the school counselor. These individuals may also be able to communicate a child’s observable behaviors in school to the parents on your behalf or in collaboration with you.
ACKNOWLEDGE THAT THIS IS A CHALLENGING TIME, BUT IT CAN BE OVERCOME
Turn to historical events to point out similar instances that have occurred and discuss how the area has since rebuilt and recovered. Acknowledging past challenges provides hope and optimism.
WAYS TO HELP YOUR STUDENTS’ FAMILIES:
Share what you are observing and what a child has told you with the parents. Document information that may be important, so you do not forget the details.
Work with others in your school to curate resources and information that may be helpful to the families. This could include anything from obtaining replacement clothing and materials to events that are taking place that will be beneficial to them.
Consider scaling back homework, projects, and anything else that will require effort at home until everyone has a chance to settle back in. In many ways, consistency and routine are good, but if you are in an area where the families are piecing their lives back together, it may be best to not add anything to their plate.
There is typically an influx of help and support immediately after a natural disaster occurs, but it tends to linger over time. Think about the lasting effects of what happened and what it may mean months down the road. Be sensitive to that.
ASK THEM HOW YOU (AND THE SCHOOL) CAN BE OF ASSISTANCE
Parents and family members affected by the situation are the best sources to ask when it comes to determining how you can help.
WAYS TO HELP YOURSELF AND YOUR COLLEAGUES:
AVOID NEWS COVERAGE
The media often presents worse case scenarios in order to attract more viewers. Watching replays can increase stress and anxiety.
EDUCATE YOURSELF ON THE EFFECTS OF TRAUMA ON SCHOOLS & LEARNING
Each individual processes and reacts to trauma differently, but there are often consistent symptoms and behaviors that are exhibited. Taking the time to learn about what to look for and how to respond will prepare you for how to best react and proceed.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
If you are stressed out about a situation, it will affect your teaching. If you have close friends or family, or if you yourself have been directly impacted by a hurricane or other natural disaster, be sure to put your health and well-being first, so you can properly help those around you. It is just like the airlines telling you to put your own oxygen mask on before helping the children to put on theirs. Try to get a good night’s sleep, eat healthy, stay hydrated, and find ways to decrease the stress you are feeling.