How to Help Kids Adjust to Hurricane Displacements

Q: We were affected by Hurricane Harvey. Our house flooded by a few inches, and we had to relocate until we’re able to redo some parts of our house. My husband, 24-month old son, and I are currently living with my sister.

I noticed my son started sucking his finger a lot more and is a bit more clingy than usual. Is there anything I can do to help him during this transition? He also has his own room here, but since the move, we have been sleeping with him. When do we transition him to sleeping back on his own without heightening the anxiety? Thank you!

A: First of all, kudos on trying to establish as normal a situation as you can with your toddler. In 2003, my husband and I, along with our nearly 1-year-old daughter, had to relocate to my in-laws’ home after Hurricane Isabel dropped a tree through our home, so I do understand the stress of leaving home quickly and trying to figure out how to get the house fixed, all while raising a toddler. We ended up living with my in-laws for five months while our house was put back together, so we went through much of what you’re experiencing in transitioning to temporary housing situations in less-than-ideal conditions.

Kids pick up on our anxiety, which is probably why he’s sucking his finger more and being clingy. He doesn’t understand what happened, only that mom and dad are not acting like usual. What worked for us is establishing as normal a routine as you can, including moving him to sleep in his own bed in his own room. There might be a few nights of some crying (just go in and reassure, but try not to pick him up—pat on back, maybe sing a song, etc.

Try to ensure he’s napping as usual and has plenty of time to run around/use up his energy during the day. If you have to meet with people to discuss your house repairs, make sure you bring toys or books or things for him to play with. Also try to stick to his regular diet as much as possible–when we eat well and sleep well, things are generally better all around (and this goes for mom and dad, too).

The more calm you can act, the less anxious he’ll be—a tall order, I know! But remember: children are very resilient and he’ll soon settle into the new environment and routine fairly quickly.

For older children, try not to discuss too much of the situation within their earshot, as too much information can bred confusion and anxiety. But do keep them informed with regular updates as to what’s being done and what to expect in the coming days or weeks.

Also, try to incorporate as much normalcy as possible with family celebrations, trips and/or outings already on the calendar. Another tall order, but that can help to make life seem just a bit off track and not completely derailed.

If your family’s situation isn’t too dire, consider volunteering or helping others in worse straits if possible. A morning spent helping someone shovel mud out of their home when yours only had water damage can help keep things in perspective.

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