The sound of rain is refreshing for many, but for some who went through the storms of Hurricane Harvey, the sound of rain triggers the fear, helplessness and anxiety of that day. The feeling is compounded when the survivor is a child. Shainy Varghese is an associate professor in the UH College of Nursing and a pediatric nurse practitioner with a nurse-managed clinic in Stafford. Many of her patients are children still struggling to navigate their emotions when it rains. HFM conducted a brief interview with Varghese and here’s what she had to say.
Q. With the anniversary of Harvey this week, children are being exposed to the media coverage from last year’s flood. Any tips for parents on minimizing anxiety?
- Distract children: read a book together, watch a movie or tell a story. Focusing on something unrelated that is funny or interesting will help alleviate their fears.
- Being together as a family gives lots of comfort to children. Children who lost everything and ended up in shelters can develop a sense of insecurity. Stay with children, comfort them and find a safe place.
- Listen to their fears and provide reassurance that you are there for them. Let them know that many people support them and there are lots of people working together to help them if something happens.
- It is better to avoid media coverage of disasters if possible. Research shows that television coverage of disasters can reinforce the traumatic experience, especially for children.
- Children are watching the parents’ reaction and picking up cues as always. Do your best to remain calm and reassuring.
- Answer questions honestly. Children and adolescents do well when they understand what was happening.
After a catastrophe, children struggle with expressing their emotions. Every time they hear about floods or thunderstorms it replays in their mind. A study examined rates of co-morbidity in children after natural disasters concluded that children with comorbid symptoms of PTSD and depression had poor recovery and more severe symptoms.
Q. Since the Houston area is prone to heavy rain, how do caregivers recognize and comfort a child who may be showing signs of anxiety due to weather?
Common symptoms of anxiety in children include:
- Nightmares, bedwetting
- Asking lots of questions and repeating the questions.
- Frustration, anger, irritability
- Excessive crying in small children.
- Lack of sleep or oversleeping
- Over or under eating
- Wanting to spent time extra with adults
Q. Are there any resources you would recommend for families dealing with this issue?
Read aloud storybooks for kids including “Franklin and the Thunder Storm.”
Here are some additional resources recommended:
Tips of talking with and helping children and youth cope after disaster or traumatic experience. https://store.samhsa.gov/shin/content/SMA11-DISASTER/SMA11-DISASTER-09.pdf
Talking to children about disasters. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/emotional-wellness/Pages/Talking-to-Children-about-Disasters.aspx