Helping Children Make Sense of the Recent Rain and Flooding

October 7, 2015

As the rain slows down and we finally see the sun again, many of us are struggling with how to process the historic flooding our State recently endured. As we rally to put our own homes back together or support friends and family who were more directly affected by the rain, we need to remember that our actions are being observed intently by are youngest family members.

Our children are watching everything: they watched the waters rise. They watched homes be swept away by strong currents. They’re watching a community come together to help each other as the waters begin to recede.

While natural disasters can be difficult to comprehend at any age, your child may need extra love and support as s/he tries to make sense of what they’re seeing and experiencing. But what if you don’t know what to say to ease their fears and anxieties?

WIS 10 out of Columbia, SC, recently interviewed Betsy C. Grier, Ph.D and nationally certified school psychologist about strategies adults can use to help the children in their lives make sense of the flood. We’ve gathered the highlights for you below, but if you have 8 minutes to spare, you can watch the entire interview to get even more insight and information.

Interview Highlights:

Should kids watch the news footage?

Grier cautions parents to be careful with what children see. If you do decide to allow your children to watch the images, she encourages you to be with them, so you can talk about what they’re seeing and help them move forward by discussing how much assistance is being provided and how you and your family are safe.

Don’t deny your child’s feelings

Grier points out that we often try to protect our kids by telling them how to feel. She encourages us to reject this response and instead acknowledge how they’re feeling:

“Let them have their feelings. We need to let them have that emotion.”

Be proactive: process the event through play and art

Grier reminds us that just because kids see the flood images and don’t say anything, doesn’t mean they aren’t feeling something. She encourages caregivers to allow their children to draw pictures, write stories, and talk through things. If possible, she stresses the importance of helping your child’s story end positively: look at all the help we’ve received! We’re all safe and together!

Protecting your kids from adult short tempers and exhaustion

Grier acknowledges that we’re going to be tired as the clean-up effort continues. We’re going to loose our patience. We might even yell. But she says to tell kids how tired we are and why. And then, she says, apologize: “I’m really sorry that I did that. Can you take a deep breath with me and let’s sit here and do something calm for a minute so that we can remember that we’re safe and that we’re okay.”

Give yourself permission to let re-building be a process

Grier states that process may look differently for every family: “Do we sit for a moment and say we need to have quiet? Do we sit with our children and say a prayer? Read a book? Sing a song? What do we do? Whatever your family looks to for hope and for strength, do that. But be in the moment.”

Helping kids see that a week off of school for this reason isn’t “fun”

Grier says that instead of celebrating a week of no homework, help your child focus on how s/he can help in the relief effort. What in your house can you donate? Let kids draw “thinking of you” pictures to send to those who have been displaced. Do something to help the community: “…Even if kids aren’t touched by this directly, that doesn’t mean they can’t learn from it and help from it and learn a really, really important lesson about our community and taking care of each other.”

For more information about how you can help in the flood relief effort, check out this story from Greenvile Online which highlights many of the groups collecting various items and donations for flood victims.

The thoughts and prayers of all of us at Spartanburg County First Steps remain with those in our State suffering from the devastating effects of the flood.