Tips on keeping your child safe emotionally and making the most of the enforced indoor time together.
Of course ensuring your child's physical safety is paramount during a storm. Assuming your child isn’t in any danger here are some tips to help them weather the storm especially if they're feeling afraid (which can also look like excitable)…
Get close to them!
Your physical presence will help their nervous system down regulate. When faced with a big storm children can feel helpless and even smaller in this big world than they usually do. Children need adults for protection and security. Sit closer to them and reassure them that you’re there verbally and physically.
Acknowledge their feelings
It’s tempting (& extremely common) to want to dispel our child’s anxieties with “don’t worry! We’re fine.” “There’s nothing to worry about!”.
Well intentioned but this without acknowledging their feelings first this can be dismissive and make them feel more isolated. It can make them feel like they're feelings are invalid, that it's all in their head and there's something wrong with them. Feeling isolated makes us feel more vulnerable which adds to the fear and so the cycle continues. Remember from an evolutionary point of view children’s survival depends on the protection from the pack. Emotional isolation feels threatening to the child.
So what should you say instead?
Add an observational statement BEFORE reassuring. E.g. “I saw that noise made you jump. I know you’re feeling scared but remember we are together. The wind is very strong but we’ve prepared by taking things inside./ We’re sheltered in this room. /This is the safest room in the house.”
I challenge you to be with your child during the struggle and the discomfort of seeing them upset. Sometimes they need to have a little cry before calming themselves down. This can be really hard for parents to watch especially if we’re feeling anxious ourselves. Keeping yourself calm and grounded offer a wonderful support to child exploring and expanding their own "window of tolerance" for their nervous system arousal.
Have an Art Jam!
Use the time indoors to get creative. Get the paints and the crayons out! Children find it very hard (if not impossible!) to express their feelings and fears through words especially when their fight or flight response has been triggered by feeling the threat of a storm. Why not get your child to create a picture of the storm, draw alongside them! Again there is such value of feeling like someone is along with you for the ride. You can also ask them to draw their ideal day and really look at that picture and imagine they are there right now. Allow them to tell you a story about their picture and just listen and give your full attention. Full attention equals love in a developing child’s brain.
Typhoon dance party!
There are some pretty classic memes about people partying through the typhoon! That does not have to be limited to booze and Wan Chai. Get the therapeutic benefits without the danger or hangover. Create a typhoon playlist (bonus points for weather themed songs) and get yourself and the kids singing and dancing along. Expend some of the pent up energy that gets stored in the body when we feel anxious (or even just the anticipation for a day off school!). When we feel anxiety we’re often stuck in a state of readiness and planning without moving into action. Music can help move us into action through dance. Plus depending on the dad dance moves available there is a high chance of endorphin release through laughter too! Belting out songs gives the whole family a chance to properly breath in order to sustain those high notes! Fuller exhalations help our bodies feel calmer by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system.
What to do if something bad has happened?
That might look like a smashed window or an even more tragic accident.
Of course do all you can to ensure your physical safety and then get started on preventing longer term emotional trauma.
Tell the story of what happened. And repeat!
Tell the story of the day being sure to include details about how they felt and any other details they may add from their memory. When we undergo a traumatic experience the sequence of events can be lost. The memory is stored in a fragmented pieces. If any of those pieces are experienced later e.g. the whistling sound of wind the fight of flight part of the brain comes online and activates the nervous system to get the body ready to run or take action. Building a story around the event helps integrate the various sensations and make sense of what happened so the child can be more self aware and know what is happening with their body rather than feeling confused and fearful about what’s going on inside.
Sharing the story also helps protect them against feeling isolated and alone. If you’re sharing the story together they feel understood and that their difficulty will feel more manageable.
Create pictures of the story.
This works for all ages because it engages our pre-verbal innate skills of play. You don’t have to understand your child’s artwork. The process is more important than the product and besides just being with your child as they vent their fears and frustrations on paper safely gives a wonderful feeling of acceptance and support.
Seek professional help
If you have been triggered by the storm, seek help from a counsellor or therapist. If your child needs extra support beyond what the family can provide at this time seek help from a registered play therapist so they can process the trauma safely. Things to look out for is difficulty sleeping or eating, more temper tantrums and difficulty calming themselves. Some children may show signs of trauma by shutting down and withdrawing. Physical symptoms of chronic stomach aches, headaches may manifest and your child may be showing "hyper vigilance” to ordinary everyday events.
At the route of trauma is the feeling of helplessness. An inability to act, protect themselves or others. Reclaim the feeling of being in control and empowered by helping others after the event. Look out for beach clean ups after the typhoon. Or consider fundraising for victims of devastating storms elsewhere. The child can practice empathy with others and a sense of community and meaning making. Helping others can add meaning to an otherwise senseless story.
In light of the recent storm related tragedies around the world, here are a list of links for charities that Full Cup have donated to. Please consider donating what you can to help. Please post in the comments any other worthwhile charities related to the recent tragic storms.