If your family and home are affected by a natural disaster, such as Hurricane Harvey, you will likely find yourself dealing with numerous stressful and unfamiliar situations. There will be people to talk to, forms to fill out, lines to wait in, and, often, no answers when and where you need them most. In addition to the normal, daily responsibilities of work/family/household, you now have disaster recovery to manage.
Disaster forces you to confront new types of stress, as a family and as individuals (yes, even the littlest ones). Your family’s recovery is not just about repairing the roof over your head; it’s about paying attention to mental and emotional needs in a way that makes each of you stronger and more resilient.
Here are a few thoughts and suggestions:
- Infants and very young children may have no understanding of the disaster and no responsibility during the recovery period, but that’s not to suggest they are unaffected. They are sensitive to changes in their environment, diet, and schedule. They may be aware that they are getting less attention than usual. Set aside one-on-one time every day for play, talk, and cuddling. Even tiny children can benefit from your explanations about what’s going on.
- Toddlers and small children may have witnessed parts of the disaster. They may be more clingy than usual. Some may have language to describe what they saw; others may not. Encourage small children to talk about and draw/paint from their experience. Answer questions simply and honestly (what happened to Fluffy? where is the big tree?). Allow children to cry and to express their fear that the disaster could recur. Talk about the disaster itself and about things they can do to stay safe in a disaster. Spend at least a small amount of time with each child each day.
- Children of elementary school age and older can understand more about the disaster, but they are also much more vulnerable to rumors. Encourage your children to talk about the stories they hear and help them sort out the truth. Writing and illustrating poems, journals, letters, and stories about their experience can be helpful. Children in this age group are also old enough to help others. Help your children come up with age-and skill-appropriate ways to contribute to the community – to help other people who are affected by the disaster.
- Set aside family time every day. When possible, prepare and eat meals together without electronic devices (including television!).
- Look for ways to laugh. This can be a good thing to do at family meals. Have each person share something funny they saw or heard that day. Watch a funny movie together.
- Eat well and regularly.
- Get as much sleep as you can.
- Ask for help. It is often very hard for people dealing with the aftermath of a disaster to ask for help. If you think of the process as a collection of many, many small steps instead of one monstrous job, it may easier to find a task someone else could do for you.
- Seek professional help. If you feel overwhelmed by anger, despair, or thoughts of hurting yourself or others, immediately seek help of a counselor or clergy.
- Offer your help. If you’re going to the grocery store, offer to pick up something for a neighbor or drive together; if you’re driving the kids to soccer practice, take the neighbor’s kids, too. The more you can do as a community of family/friends/neighbors, the more you lighten the load on each individual.
- Share your knowledge. If you’ve mastered part of the recovery process, help others to do so.
- Check in on your neighbors.
- Let your more distant family and friends know about your progress (and your needs). A Facebook post is worth a thousand words.
In the aftermath of a disaster, you may feel alone with the burden of recovery. Don’t give up. It’s a long road, but you’ll end up stronger and more resilient if you lavish some attention on yourself and your family.
At Sente Mortgage, we are deeply concerned about our Texas friends and neighbors affected by Harvey. We know you have a baffling array of concerns, and we are committed to providing up-to-date, accurate information to help with your recovery.