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Youth and Hurricane Sandy: Staying Calm within the Storm
Psychological precautions and interventions to address the emotional needs of children and teens affected by the threat of, media portrayal of and result of epic hurricane Sandy for parents, teachers, and community leaders.
It is not always possible to predict or intervene with everyone who is touched by a disaster such as hurricane Sandy, which is a historical storm that is ripping through 1/3 of the United States.
Although crisis intervention is focused on staying alive and safe, there is an emotional and mental need for all as well. The media, well-meaning in broadcasting updates continually, had added in some instances, sound effects to their pre-storm reports, to heighten the report and to knowingly or not, created a bit of hysteria among viewers, including youth. To hear warnings of the storm, complete with sound effects that are howling and crashing, is actually incredibly and inherently traumatic for those who are not yet able to process the difference between marketing and heightening a broadcast and danger, such as youth.
Realize then, that some youth, from reports on warnings of the storm, to visuals that are threatening and in real time, to suffering mass power outage and perhaps the victims of the storm, this is a traumatic stress that will not quickly be eased.
There are illustrative examples of the ramification on youth from mass trauma as well as catastrophic events, such as war, terrorism and disasters such as Hurricane Sandy. Understand that most youth in the United States have never lived in a time of peace; that they have only known the reality of war, that they have also only known the threats of terrorism, and now, add to this the actual reality of weather disaster.
The model for health and dealing with post traumatic stress disorder which may affect many youth (as well as adults) in the next weeks and months as the East recovers, starts within the home or shelter. In most cases a parent or leader is the first line of emotional health safety. This is the microsystem within the biophysical world. The microsystem is the parents, siblings, family and peers. This may also include shelter leaders or teachers, professors & administers if the youth is in a college situation, or other community leaders as designated. The biophysical world is not only the obvious weather system but the temperment of the youth, the health of the youth, physiological reactions of their surrounding role models and as well as the verbal, mental and emotional reactions of their surrounding role models.
In this situation, with Sandy in process and the weeks after, this is the most important aspect of the youth's healing; as the exosystem and macrosystems will slowly be more important to them from an emotional place, the microsystem is still the most important emotional support.
The exosystem is the neighborhood, the school, the health care system, military and so on. The macrosystem is the cultural response, social networking as a whole, the economic fall out, the government and the environmental effect of the disaster that is this grand storm.
Tips for parents to help your child through this turbulent emotional crisis and trauma include but are not limited to:
1. Obtaining professional mental health as soon as possible through school systems and groups that may be available soon after disaster.
2. In disaster do not react to media with unneeded drama, but with logic and reason, perhaps even keeping media available only in one room or not as loud to not infect youth with communications and visuals that they have deficiency in processing.
3. If you must have media on for safety reasons, you can divert the attention of the youth by engaging their senses and mind in another activity; as them to play cards, take care of a pet, fold items, etc. Keep them engaged in something so that they can have another focus which well help them lessen their participation in possible media-related crisis.
4. This is not the time to be overly confident, make false promises or be inference based, even if that is your natural communication style. Be upfront, and be gentle. So, if a child asks if you will "all" be alright, do not answer with vague "of course" or "yes" but more pointedly, with "We are doing the best we can and let's focus on the here and now". This will help the child stay in the here and now, keep expectations in check and understand a level of gentle communication, realistic confidence and also, this style keeps panic at bay.
5. Engage the child in helping, so that they feel empowered. Asking them to tuck a sibling in, or do small items, helps them to feel in control; if they balk, don't push it though, as they may not be ready.
6. After the storm, while clean up is underway, engage the child in relaxation and gratitude in any way. Engage the child also in expressions that may include art or music. Youth often have a hard time expressing themselves as they are not yet developed but, they do have the same emotions developing. Having an abstract manner in which to express themselves is a great way for them to learn to process and feel empowered, which helps traumatic stress to take a back seat to confidence and health.
7. Above all, take time as a parent or leader, for yourself. You need to keep yourself emotionally healthy, stable and strong for your child or children. Children learn mostly by what they see not what they hear, so telling them that everything will be fine while they see you unravel with fear, is going to teach them only that what one says and what one does, do not match. So, try to be as stable as possible during and after disaster for the sake of the child, as well as yourself.
Healing through a focus of emotional health can provide a very customized framework within a family or community, one that utilizes many sets of skills and perspectives. Trusted family members, friends and leaders should gather to help promote a healthy development of the youth to facilitate adjustment and emphasize healing of time, space, place and emotion.