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Caring For Children During A Disaster: An Open Thread


I can’t remember how I got through the costliest natural disaster in US history as a child after my house was flattened in 1992, and that’s a testament to the adults.

Credit: Nick Oxford, Reuters

Late August can be a tough month of memories for a South Floridian. In 1992 a Category 5 hurricane named Andrew hit South Florida, Louisiana and the Caribbean becoming the costliest disaster the US had ever experienced. Katrina would later break that record in 2005 and it seems Harvey may even top that. 2017 also happens to mark the 28th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew.

I was six years old and my family lived in a house in Homestead, the area that had to be completely rebuilt. We were evacuated and my little brother and I spent the storm at our grandmother’s house in another part of Miami. Our house was flattened. Do you know what I remember telling people about that time? That I was glad because it meant we could move to a neighborhood with more children for me to play with. I would later come to understand just how traumatic the experience was for my parents, both during and well after, but there I was believing that one of my bunny blankets had magically “survived” the storm (I refuse to ask) and forgetting totally about the wooden playhouse my dad got for me in the backyard. Yay?

Whatever my parents and the other adults did to care for me during that time, it would have been invisible to me. But clearly, they all did something right. I asked some friends of mine about their memories and it was a similar story. The experience of the storm was scary but quickly forgotten. In some of our memories, it was even “fun”, birthday parties by candle light, neighborhood coming together and sharing food while cleaning up tree branches, etc. It is only in our adulthood that we can look back and truly understand the trauma our parents experienced.

Gallows humor as a way to cope, sounds familiar

I’ve been working with children who are old enough to ask questions recently and so naturally when I see things in the news, I start panicking about having an answer. Barring any direct experience with death or painful injury, I think children can better understand and accept what happens during and after a natural disaster. I’ve found a few interesting resources for adults to talk to their kids about experiencing disaster, that probably also work for explaining a national disaster to kids too, that I’ll list here. But please also share any experiences you’ve had both as a child or as an adult guardian of children!

“8 Books to Help Children Understand Disasters and Cope With Anxiety”, Tara Haelle 

“How To Help Your Child Cope After Hurricane Harvey”, Tara Haelle

“Helping Children After A Natural Disaster: Information for Families and Educators”, NASP

“How School Children Will Cope With Hurricane Harvey”, Hayley Glatter


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