Things I Thought About After the Hailstorm: Children and Disaster

This week I saw photos and video of the earthquake in Japan and it gave me a little bit of pause. Though the hailstorm San Antonio experienced is not even close to being in the same category of disaster, I couldn’t help but think about the common protective instinct that parents have for their children, whether it’s hail in San Antonio or earthquakes in Japan. Though we never want to think about it, how do we respond to natural disaster whether it be a thunderstorm or something larger?
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When the storm happened in San Antonio, the hailstones ranged from pea-sized all the way up to baseball-sized. Near our house they were like big pecans. At the church, some were much larger. I heard about the damage to our church as my children were getting ready for school and they started to hear and see evidence that this was not a normal morning. I called the emergency line on the insurance and threw on some clothes without taking a shower. I heard Clayton and Sam in the background “Who is mommy talking to? Where are my shoes?” As we were loading up in the car, Elias showed some of the remaining hail to the boys and they were amazed. “Wow! Ice cubes outside!” But then the questions started rolling in:
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“If the ice melts, does that mean they can’t fix the church?”
“Is the whole church broked?”
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They came back from school to find industrial-sized fans whirring in the hallways and contractors taping up windows. As they ran outside for a little bit, we came upon a broken light I hadn’t seen before and I realized we’d be better off just going back inside. I was quite jumpy and shouted “No! Don’t touch that! NO!”
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“Why, Mama? Is the ice coming again?” Ouch.
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Yesterday, Clayton came home from school with some news “My friend said that the ice balls hit all the cars, and kids.” Later he said “If ice comes again, we should cover the car with twenty towels.” Clearly his little brain is working overtime about it, trying to figure out what happened. Samuel also seemed to be asking a lot of questions, particularly about what we were doing and what we were going to do. When I said we were going to eat dinner, take a bath, and go to bed, he said “And then what are we going to do?”  Over, and over and over again. I think he needed to feel secure and safe, and to know that we had a plan that did not involve ice hitting cars and kids and running off to church in chaos.
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We are so grateful that nobody was physically injured. Despite the playground rumors of ice hitting kids, I’m only aware of a few people getting bruised and scraped, no serious injuries, and nobody in our family or church. Still, I want to do everything I can to guard their minds and hearts and help protect them from their fears. Children are so sensitive, and I know they can pick up on the anxiety all around them.
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Here are four things we’ve tried to do in the past couple of days, based on what we’ve read about young children and how to help them with the stress and trauma of natural disaster. In the scheme of things, our disaster is a minor inconvenience, but these things still apply in large or small disruptions to daily life…
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1. Maintain routines, and rituals: I was delighted to read this as a helpful suggestion from the NAEYC, because we love rituals and routines in our house. (Occupational hazard!)  The past two nights we’ve focused on lots of snuggles and a blessing. When there’s chaos all around, we need to feel safe and protected — applies to every day, but especially super-chaotic ones.
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2. Help children to feel in control: In our house we’ve been giving very detailed answers to Samuel’s questions about what is happening next, even though it’s repetitive. (Sheesh, kid, how many times can I tell you that after we take a bath, we’re going to bed!). We’re also giving lots of choices, even more than normal.
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3. Let the children lead the discussion: Our children are three and four, so we’re trying not to talk about the hail damage all the time in front of them (even though there’s been a lot to talk about!) We answer their questions as briefly and truthfully as possible, and move on to something else.
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4. Talk about how to be safe in natural disasters: I read at least six articles this week as I was trying to think about how to help Clayton and Sam process all of this. One piece of advice that came up a lot that maybe wouldn’t have come to me naturally was to help talk more about what we do when there is a storm.  “Whenever a storm comes, we go into our house and stay away from the windows. That’s how you stay safe.” We looked at some pictures of sun and rain and snow and ice and talked about the difference. We remembered how fun it was to play in the snow at grandma’s house and talked about how some days are sunny and some are not.
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I hope we don’t face too many storms like this when Clayton and Sam are growing up. Based on what I’ve heard, it’s very unlikely that hail like this will come to us again, but I do hope to do what I can to help my children and other children, should they need help processing these types of disasters. Prayers for all of the families in Japan.
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