Talking about Harvey and its Effects with your child

As we look forward to Harvey leaving our area, we are left with many tasks. From clean up and recovery to rebuilding what has been lost or damaged, there will be a lot of hard work ahead for us. One task parents and those who work with children and youth will have to face—and may already be facing—is how to talk about this with our children. For many of our students, Houston has always been home, others have relocated here from other parts of the States, and still others recently arrived. And yet, since Friday, many of them have weathered this storm along with their families and Harvey has left no family in our community or city unaffected by the fear, anxiety, and/or physical damage it left in its wake. Your child may have questions about what’s happened, about why it happened, and will wonder if this kind of event could happen again. Here a few ways to talk to your student about what Houston and the surrounding area has experienced:

  1. See what your child already knows. This is particularly useful for parents of students who pay attention to the news or have access to news outlets, including social media, through their personal electronic devices. Ask your child questions to assess what kind of information they’ve already received and also where they might be in processing the information.
  2. Be honest and encourage questions. Give accurate, age appropriate information: yes, some people lost their homes; some people have had to evacuate; very unfortunately, some people lost their lives. This ensures your child is hearing accurate and honest information from you, their parents, which helps maintain trust during such times as these. If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so and assure your child that when you know you will share information, or in the case of older children, this might be a time when you research together.  
  3. Try to remain calm. Living within a natural disaster zone is stressful and can be frightening for adults and children. Talking about the aftermath with a child in an age appropriate manner can be even scarier for parents and teachers. Try to remain calm and choose words carefully. If you are becoming overwhelmed take a break from the discussion. If your child becomes overwhelmed, take a break from the discussion and instead remind them that you are together, which is most important at this time.
  4. Try to assess your child’s feelings and affirm them. Some children may express fear, anxiety, anger, confusion, etc. Others may choose silence and personal reflection. Affirm these feelings in your child and then share your own feelings: I am afraid as well; I am so heartbroken that people have lost their lives; I am worried about our friends. This empathetic response from parents and trusted adults not only validates the feelings of a child or youth but also reinforces the fact that this is communal experience and they are not alone.
  5. Point out triumphs, share the good. In the face of unprecedented flooding and raining, Houston has risen to the challenge tremendously. Houstonians and others from the surrounding area have gone to great lengths to help others in any way they are able. First responders have been working around the clock to rescue our neighbors, the Cajun Army from Louisiana is working to rescue people as well, and private citizens have used their own boats and kayaks to pick up anyone stranded in flooded areas. The Red Cross, working at George R Brown, received so many people hoping to volunteer and help their fellow Houstonians, that they had to create shifts to manage everyone. Some of you have donated, volunteered, called, and alerted authorities to the needs of neighbors, friends, and loved ones. Houston has proven itself to be wildly helpful and courageous, so share that with your child, let your student know that in the face of life threatening conditions people chose to be kind, good, and neighborly. 

In peace,
Ryan Hawthorne, M. Div
Interim Director of Spiritual Life