Helping kids feel safe after storm

By QCS Staff

It’s been a slightly more than a month since a tornado hit Logan and changed many people’s lives.
Yet, for some, the reaction to the tornado is not over, said Ann Largent, a counselor at the schools in House, Logan, Tucumcari and San Jon through the Quay County School Health Partnership and the Maternal, Child and Community Health Council.
In addition, news of last week’s tornado in neighboring Texas communities may also bring back some unsettling feelings, especially for children, she said.
The severity of the reactions depend primarily on three factors, Largent said.
They are:
• severity of the traumatic event,
• physical proximity to the event and
• parent’s or guardian’s reaction to the event.
Children also may act out for several months beyond the event, Largent said.
Sometimes, it’s seen in their drawings or their play, she said. A child’s drawing of a landscape might not depict an orderly scene, but one that is more chaotic. Over time, however, children will clean up their landscape.
For example, downed trees become upright and flourishing under a bright sun.
Or, a child’s imaginary play games with dolls or other toy figures may place them in dire situations. Then over time, the child’s play involves less threatening and more realistic scenarios.
Often, this is a process that parents will see their children go through. Children’s drawings will literally illustrate how they are dealing with a traumatic event such as a tornado.
To put everything into perspective, one child named the tornado that hit Logan, just like the National Weather Service names hurricanes, Largent said. The child called it “artist tornado,” Largent said.
Here are some of the reactions that children, or adults, may experience after a traumatic event:
• Sleep problems
• Irritability and feeling tense
• Avoidance i.e., not talking about the disaster, leaving the area when someone does talk about it
• Changes in school performance
• Problems with peers/friends
• Difficulty being separated from parent/guardian Clinging to caregiver more than usual
• Being “jumpy” or startling easily
• Fear of new situations
• Fear of being alone
• Confusion
• Worrying
• Isolating from family
• Anger
• Depressed mood
• Tearfulness
• Having nightmares
Generally, these symptoms should subside in a few days and most disaster survivors experience only mild, normal stress reactions, she said.
Yet, one third of disaster survivors experience more severe symptoms which may lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorders or depression, said Largent.
To assist a child or adolescent in coping with a traumatic event, Largent suggested parents:
• Discuss events as calmly as possible
• Increase nurturing behaviors such as hugs, and verbal reassurance that the child’s world is again safe
• Refrain from exposing and re-exposing the young person to scenes of the disaster
• Make certain the young person has a clean, private, and safe place to stay
• Encourage expression of feelings about the event
• Teach and demonstrate problem solving skills
• Get back to a familiar routine as soon as is reasonably possible
• Maintain or reestablish communication with family, peers and counselors in order to talk about your experiences
• Get support for yourself if you are having problems so that you can support your child
• Spend time really listening to your child and giving him or her plenty of opportunities to tell his/her story of the disaster
• Identify help and support such as religious faith, church family, counselors, trusted friends, agencies and organizations for yourself and your child/children.
If your child does not seem to be getting back to him/herself in a few weeks, Largent says, “Do seek the assistance of a counselor in your area or at your school.”

Counseling Services in Tucumcari area include:

• Mental Health Resources 461-3013
• Mesa Counseling 461-6200
• TeamBuilders Counseling Services 461-4411
• Ann Largent, M.A., LPCC, NCC, Quay County School Health Partnership
Maternal, Child and Community Health Council 461-3506