How to help children deal with a flood evacuation

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Experts offer tips for helping children cope with the crisis of a storm and its aftermath.

Panic while fleeing flood waters, the devastation that comes from losing everything you own, frustration from sharing space at a shelter, all these things can take a toll on a person in aftermath of a hurricane. But it also impacts children, according to licensed Duke clinical social worker Rebecca Maher.

Maher has experience helping families like the ones who are dealing with hard times now. She was there during Hurricane Floyd in the 1990s and has been trapped in floodwaters with her family.

She said letting children tell their own story helps them process what's happening - sharing what they felt if your family was rescued, evacuated, or know someone who's missing.

Also, trying to establish a sense of routine, no matter how small, and letting your children know there are resources to get by will help calm their fears.


As flood waters have inundated communities across the ABC11 viewing area, we've seen families in crisis.

"We have a special needs son and ... I'm sorry but," an evacuee near the Woodlake dam said, on the verge of tears "We're just trying to get a generator."

"My grandkids lost their Pampers, their milk, we don't have anything," a woman said sobbing, after escaping the flood in Lumberton.

But Maher said there are ways to smooth the path for children.

"Find a meaning-making narrative where they feel resilient," Maher advises families battling the flood. "Where they trust that people will respond, where it's OK to be sad and scared, but also they have a sense that there's a way to go forward."

Here are some of the things Maher advises in comforting your child after a natural disaster:

  • You want to know how that disaster impacted them. Have older children tell their story, ask younger children to draw a picture of what happened. Listen for how they are making meaning of the event.

  • Establish and support a new routine.

  • Let kids express scary moments, but reassure them there are adults around that will take care of their needs.

  • Create a plan of action, such as a hurricane kit, to calm any future anxiety as a child's worries can persist later on or be triggered by certain sensory experiences.


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