Dealing with stress in the wake of the storm

Date posted: August 29, 2011

Media contact: Dr. Kimberly Allen, 919-515-9139 or kimberly_allen@ncsu.edu, or Dr. Andrew Behnke, 919-515-9156 or andrew_behnke@ncsu.edu.

Families who weather particularly bad storms such as Hurricane Irene are likely to experience stress. Recognizing the signs and taking steps to cope with them are key to reducing the impact, say North Carolina Cooperative Extension agents and specialists.

When it comes to helping their children cope, the best first step that parents can take is to take care of their own needs by trying to eat healthy, exercise and reach out to others.

While emotional reactions vary from person to person, parents can tell a lot about their child’s mental well-being by observing their behavior. Signs of stress include:

  • Changes of habits (eating, sleeping or anything out of the ordinary)
  • Regressive behaviors (starting bed wetting or thumb sucking again)
  • Sleeplessness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Poor eye contact
  • Fidgeting

If children are stressed, parents can reassure their children by giving extra hugs, by trying to have fun and remaining positive, and by encouraging children to talk about their feelings and listening to their concerns. It’s also important for parents to explain what’s happening or what’s expected to happen. While they don’t know when the electricity will return, for example, they can explain that the situation is temporary and that the children are safe.

Maintaining consistency is also key. Keeping a routine can help children feel that they are safe and supported. Stick to a schedule whenever possible.

It also helps to involve children in finding solutions. When children feel irritable, it can be comforting for them to help in the decision-making process. For example, parents could let them decide which games to play or decide which foods to eat.

Finally, it’s also important for parents to reach out and ask for help when they need it – to connect with neighbors and others in the community.

Cooperative Extension has more information on helping families cope with stress at http://ncfamilies.com and http://ncdisaster.com. A PDF fact sheet is at http://dl.dropbox.com/u/905330/Andrews_Docs/NCfamilies/disaster%20response.pdf

-Dee Shore, 919-513-3117, 919-604-3164 or dee_shore@ncsu.edu

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