“Helpers”: How to Support Children in the Wake of Natural Disasters
Natural disasters occur in every part of the world. Some places seem to experience some kind of disaster every year, and others seem immune until – surprise, surprise – something happens. A crack of lightning hits just the right spot, or a cold front meets 100% humidity, or a fault line that has been dormant for decades starts to shake.
We live on this planet, and this planet is alive.
It shakes, it sweats, it expresses, it sleeps, and then it wakes. Every day things happen in this world, and not all of them work according to our plans. Weddings get rained on. Soccer games get snowed on. Conventions get flooded, festivals get canceled, and new homes get shaken up. And sometimes it is really bad, and people die.
So if we are feeling vulnerable, helpless, angry, and grief-stricken, then how are our children feeling?
Children look to us for safety and reassurance and can sense that we are not feeling safe and reassured. So how do we handle that?
Great questions – and the answer, I think, is at once simple and complex. The complexity has to do with your family values, geography, and culture.
- Where do you live?
- What access does your child have to the media?
- Do you often volunteer to help those in need?
- What family stories do you share around natural disasters?
These are some of the complex questions you may consider when talking about the wildfires or floods or any other natural disaster.
But the simple response is where stories can help.
Here we think about “humanity” in the broad sense, not in the details. We don’t get caught up in particular incidents, particular events, or particular responses. Instead, we focus on the underlying fears and then the universal desire to help those in need.
The simple truths that children all around the world want to have reinforced are:
The world is good.
I am safe and loved.
It is okay to feel sad, mad, or scared.
I want to help.
I made this video last year after the flooding in Louisiana and wildfires in California. In it, I talk about how to talk with your kids about natural disasters:
These truths may not seem like truths to us grown ups. It may be hard for us to validate "I am safe" when children are trapped in collapsed buildings after a tornado plows through their town. But we are not talking about us – we are talking about children – and a foundation of "I am safe" is a gift we can give them. This gift can inform how they meet challenges, disasters, and tragedy. If their broad sense of the world is that they are safe and that they can help those in need, then they can enter into difficult situations with a kind of confidence and clarity that will help not only themselves but those around them. So when they help others, then they can see everyone around as Helpers too.
Here is a story that models this:
"Helpers" is a story to help families with young children meet with news and experiences of natural disasters.
"Helpers" is a short story about Dennis, a happy little six-year-old boy who wakes one morning to see his mother listening to the radio in the kitchen. She turns it off, but Dennis can tell that something is wrong and that his mother is feeling sad – and maybe a little scared. She explains that something happened, a big storm moved through a town, and buildings were damaged and people were hurt.
When she sees that this is making him feel nervous, she scoops him up and tells him, “I know that when something like this happens – when there are very strong winds or other kinds of storms – people around the world will know about it. And do you know what they do when they find out? They will help.”
She then tells him about how all the people on their street, in their neighborhood, and in their town that want to make sure that he, Dennis, is safe.
“But you know what, Dennis?” his Mother asks, raising her eyebrows. “It is time for us to be the helpers. There are people that are feeling scared right now because a storm came to their house. Our house is fine and so are we. Are you ready to be a helper?”
We hope this helps as you comfort your child, reassure them, and then decide how your family wishes to help those in need.
How You Can Help:
If you and your family wish to be a Helper to those affected by Hurricane Harvey, consider supporting in the following ways:
The Red Cross and Salvation Army have asked for donations as the groups provide water and shelters to those affected.
To donate, visit the American Red Cross here.
Other Ways to Donate
"Diapers are not provided by disaster relief agencies," the Texas Diaper Bank said on Facebook. The agency has asked people to donate diapers to families displaced by the storm.
About the Author
David Sewell McCann
David Sewell McCann fell in love with spinning stories in first grade – the day a storyteller came to his class and captured his mind and imagination. He has been engaged in storytelling all of his adult life through painting, film-making, teaching and performing. Out of his experience as a Waldorf elementary class teacher and parent, he has developed a four step method of intuitive storytelling, which he now shares through workshops and through this website.