As parents begin to struggle through the emotions brought on by Hurricane Katrina, it’s important to remember that children are also impacted by the scenes they see played out on television, the words they hear spoken and the pictures they glimpse in the paper.
“Children are often more aware of what’s happening than we realize,” says Paul Parks, Executive Director for San Antonio’s Ecumenical Center and a Fellow of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. While children have different reactions at different ages, Parks offers these basic tips for parents:
• Limit the amount of time that kids watch the story on television.
• Don’t offer too much information, but rather focus on creating opportunities to share thoughts and answering questions simply, directly and honestly.
• Don’t make promises you do not have the power to fulfill.
• Reassure kids of their own safety by stressing the extremely low probability of such catastrophic events. You can’t promise them there is nothing to worry about ever, but you can comfort them with genuine, reality-based reassurance.
• Take the opportunity to develop, with the children, a response plan that details answers to such questions as: Where would we go? Who should we contact? If everyone is not home where would we meet? environment will be – yet they are the least likely to reach out for help.”.
Stensrud offers these tips for teachers and school counselors:
• Listening while being supportive and providing comfort are the most important things you can do.
• Set aside some individual time with the child, prior to entrance into the classroom if possible, to get to know the child and his or her circumstances a little bit.
• Find out what the child’s comfort level is regarding the event, and what if any, they would like to share with their classmates. Respect whatever decision the child makes.
• Talk to your class prior to the new child’s arrival, if at all possible, to prep them on what to do and not do, such as asking intrusive or insensitive questions (did anyone you love die, did you see any dead bodies).
• Classmates need to know they should respect whatever the child wishes regarding what is talked about.
• Ask students what they’re hearing in their homes about the event. It is helpful to know, especially if the kids have heard erroneous facts or prejudices expressed. Discussing it prior to a new student’s arrival gives you a chance to straighten out some of the information.
• Because these children are overwhelmed and coping with extremely challenging circumstances, they may express themselves with unexpected emotional reactions or outbursts.
These experiences are a red flag that the child needs additional support, outreach and help.
Sometimes even adults have a difficult time knowing what to do when coming in contact with those affected by such tragedy. Children have even less of a frame of reference. They may not know what to say or do if a young evacuee joins their classroom. Tips to share include:
• Treat them like you would any new child in the class.
• Give them what they need, but don’t go overindulge them.
• Introduce them to other students.
• Remember, they are not a project to be undertaken or completed.
• Understand that they may show a fear of storms, a tendency to cry or have anxious moments. This is a normal response to an abnormal situation. Don’t blow it out of proportion.
• If a child begins to have problems sleeping, eating or other signs of anxiety that are impacting his or her daily life, seek professional help.
Equipping Teachers and School Counselors
As the children are incorporated into the school environment, teachers and school counselors play a critical role in the healing process.
“Teachers and school counselors need to be especially attentive on how these children are assimilating,” says Helen
Stensrud, the Ecumenical Center’s registered play therapist.
“Children are most in need of emotional support when they are in the midst of strangers – as their new school
After Hurricane Katrina: Now What?
September 2005 Ecumenical Center for Religion and Health, San Antonio, TX
During times of crisis and loss we often find ourselves wondering what to do, what to say, what to look for in our loved ones. Keeping with our 38 year tradition of service and caring we offer this information to you and ask that you share it with others. Paul A. Parks, D.Min., Executive Director
For help or information
Contact any of the ECRH
Counseling staff at
(210) 616-0885 for assistance.
Staff counselors are available for consultation or counseling.
Fee subsidy is available.
Amey Buchanan-Kadri, M.Ed
Royce Calhoun, Ph.D.
Julie Gowen, M.S.W
Mark Jones, D.Min.
Randy Lyle, Ph.D.
Helen Stensrud, R.P.T.
Lillian Solis-Smith, Ph.D.
Daniel Thompson, Ph.D.
ECRH Notes Page 2
• Psychosomatic illnesses may manifest themselves 12/14 to 18 Years
• Adolescents most resemble adult posttraumatic stress reactions
• May feel anger, shame, betrayal and act out their frustration through rebellious acts in school
• Judgmental about their own behavior and the behavior of others
• Their survival may contribute to the sense of immortality
• They are often suspicious and guarded in their reaction to others in the aftermath
• Eating and sleeping disorders are common
• Depression may plague the adolescent
• May lose impulse control and become a threat to other family members and himself
• Alcohol and drug abuse may be a problem as a result of the perceived meaninglessness of the world
• Fear that the disaster or tragedy will repeat itself adds to the sense of a foreshortened future
• May have psychosomatic illnesses .. children react to trauma differently than adults. They also exhibit different reactions at different stages in the developmental process. Following are children’s reactions to trauma, provided
by Lutheran Disaster Response.
Birth to 2 Years
• High anxiety levels manifested in crying, biting, throwing objects, thumb sucking, and agitated behavior
• While it is highly unlikely that the child will retain a strong mental memory of the trauma, the child may retain a physical memory
2 to 6 Years (Pre-School)
• Children may not have the same level of denial as do adults and thus take in the catastrophe more swiftly
• May engage in reenactments and play about the traumatic event — sometimes to the distress of parents or adults
• Anxious attachment behaviors are exhibited toward caretakers — may include physically holding on to adults; not wanting to sleep alone; wanting to be held
• May become mute, withdrawn, and still
• May manifest a short “sadness span” but repeat sadness periods over and over
• May regress in physical independence — refuse to dress, feed or wash self; may forget toilet training; may wet bed
• May experience sleep disturbances.
Nightmares are common
• May be threatened by any change in daily routines
• Does not understand death (no one does) and its permanency — reaction to death may include anger and a feeling of rejection
Children’s Reactions to Trauma
6 to 10 Years
• Play continues to be the primary method of expression; often art, drawing, dance or music may be integrated in the play
• The sense of loss and injury may intrude on the concentration of the child in school
• Radical changes in behavior may result — the normally quiet child becoming active and noisy; the normally active child becoming lethargic
• May fantasize about the event with “savior” ending
• Withdrawal of trust from adults
• May become tentative in growth toward independence
• Internal body dysfunctions are normal — headaches, stomachaches, dizziness
• May have increasing difficulty in controlling their own behaviors
• May regress to previous developmental stages
10 – 12 (Girls) 12 – 14 (Boys)
• Become more childlike in attitude
• May be very angry at unfairness of the disaster
• May manifest euphoria and excitement at survival
• May see symbolic meaning to predisaster events as omens and assign symbolic reasons to post-disaster survival
• May suppress thoughts and feeling to avoid confronting the disaster
• May be self-judgmental about their own behavior
• May have sense of foreshortened future
• May have a sense of meaninglessness or purposelessness of existence
The Ecumenical Center For Religion and Health
“Healing and Growth Though Knowledge and Faith”
8310 Ewing Halsell Drive, San Antonio, Texas,78229 * PH: 210-616-0885 * Fax: 210-616-0845 * www.ecrh.org