Oklahoma City Tragedy: Natural Disasters and Kids

Oklahoma City Tradgedy: Natural Disasters and Kids. Tips for parents and caregivers

by Dr. Sue Cornbluth

Another unexpected tragedy.  Another devastating Loss. Yesterday, Oklahoma City suffered one of the worst tornado’s the country has seen. CNN reported that The vicious tornado that ripped across central Oklahoma on Monday killed at least 51 people — with about 40 more bodies expected to arrive at the Oklahoma state medical examiner’s office, Amy Elliott of the coroner’s office said Tuesday. Roughly half of the expected bodies are children. The official death toll will gradually rise from 51 as each of the bodies is processed, Elliott said.

Despite the woeful news, rescue workers clung to the hope of finding more survivors and scoured mountains of rubble where houses and schools once stood.

Tornado survivor: I just want to cry

At least 20 of those killed were children, including seven from Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore — the site of a frantic search Tuesday morning.  CNN Reference

At one point, an estimated 24 children were missing from the school, but some later turned up at nearby churches. It’s unclear how many may still be trapped in the wreckage, and how many are dead or alive.

A father of a third-grader still missing sat quietly on a stool outside. Tears cascaded from his face as he waited for any news.

Even parents of survivors couldn’t wrap their minds around the tragedy.
“I’m speechless. How did this happen? Why did this happen?” Norma Bautista asked. “How do we explain this to the kids? … In an instant, everything’s gone.” from CNN Article

Parents whose children are still missing, are most likely feeling emense anxiety and fear. There are no words that can comfort a parent in this time of shear disbelief. Numbness and hope take over.  As one parent asked, “How do we explain this to our kids?” The answer can be defined in terms of being honest and open with your children. When a tragedy such as this strikes, a parent cannot be expected to have all the answers. This is when parents need to turn to professionals for help. A natural disaster is as much a tragedy for a parent as a child.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network offers tips for parents and caregivers to help kids cope with the emotional toll of hurricanes and other natural disasters:

1) Try to remain calm and monitor adult conversations to minimize children’s distress.

2) Shield children from viewing serious injuries and damage as much as possible, including media coverage.

3) Tell children about what adults are doing to help the community recover from the storm.

4) Be sympathetic to children’s sense of loss over pets and special toys.

5) Let children help in the response, in age-appropriate ways, to boost their sense of control.

6) Repeatedly reassure children that they are safe.

7 ) Maintain daily routines and expectations for children as much as possible.

8 ) Spend more time with children at bedtime, when they may be more anxious about separation and the unknown.

9) Finally.  Be patient with children when they return to school. They may be distracted and have difficulty concentrating.

Dr. Sue is a clinical psychologist , professor of psychology at Temple University and a National expert in foster care and child abuse. She began her career in the field of foster care. It was there that  Dr. Sue learned how to connect with abused children through building a safe, trusting relationship with each child she counseled. Visit her website or find her on Twitter –>

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