Despite the recent traumatic and life-altering experiences after the passage of Hurricane Dorian that devastated the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama, youth and children’s ministry Pastor Ricardo Miller says he has no doubt in the resilience of Bahamians and that the country would regroup and rebuild better and stronger. He said Bahamians are overcomers.
“As families, communities and a nation, we will not only survive, but thrive despite the worst of time,” said Miller.
But as the long road to recovery begins, he implores parents to remember to help children through the process by being honest with them; reminding them that it’s okay not to be okay; managing displacement; encouraging them to be creative; giving them control; letting them help; letting them seek opportunities for the family to serve others who are in a similar or worse situation; being patient; getting them help; and not forgetting to pray for and with children.
“The nation was rocked to [the] core as we helplessly witnessed Hurricane Dorian ravish Abaco and Grand Bahama. Little-to-nothing could prepare us for the fury Dorian brought. Worse, there was no way of understanding the magnitude of what we would face in the aftermath. Scores of residents from both islands have had to walk through the pain of losing everything – including loved ones – and having to pick up the broken pieces and work on moving forward. So many gave heart-wrenching accounts of the storm. Yet, very few asked about the impact on their children, and even fewer have been encouraged to be intentional in pursuing emotional help for their children.”
The 20-year children’s ministry veteran said an ordeal of the magnitude of the recent storm can psychologically disrupt children, just as it would adults, and that it is imperative that parents find creative ways to help children cope with the stress and trauma.
Miller – who will be hosting his first Influencers Summit on October 12 at Queen’s College, during which parents, teachers, young leaders and pastors can learn strategies for influencing children, teens and young adults – presented 10 tips to help children cope after Hurricane Dorian:
Be honest with children
In accordance with their ages, communicate to your children the facts of the situation your family is now in. In many instances, they need to know the facts so they can use the plan you’ve created or at least understand what’s going on. Also, let them express their feelings honestly and openly. You feel fear and should talk about it with another adult, so let your children do the same with you or a counselor. Their feelings are just as valid, and talking about them will help children heal after a crisis.
Remind children that it’s okay to not be okay
Hurricanes can be frightening for children of all ages and can leave them feeling scared, insecure, guilty, sad and even angry. As an adult and parent, you may not have all of the answers about the way forward for your family or you may find that you yourself are angry. Allow your children to see this vulnerability. It is important for children to understand that sometimes we are faced with circumstances that are beyond our control and that our negative emotion towards these unfortunate circumstances are natural.
Having to involuntarily leave their home, school, friends, community and other familiarities they’ve lived with can be emotionally distressing for children. Affirm them of the power and joy of being given the opportunity to start over. Where possible, allow them to reconnect with extended family members, old friends and old teachers and as many people from their lives prior to the storm. This is also an opportune place to give special attention to the way they cope with having to create new friends, or adapt to a new environment. Talk to them about possible bullying from their peers. Affirm proper problem-solving and anger management skills.
Find the positive, fun and enriching ways for children to express themselves. Get them involved in youth-centered programs and organizations. Allow them to peruse positive interests like learning to play a new instrument, singing, dancing or drawing. A happy soul makes for a happy child.
Give them control
As helpless as you feel in a potentially devastating situation, remember that children likely feel even more so. It can be as little as what game to play or song to sing next. Any amount of control you can give them only adds to feelings of security.
Let them help
Where possible, encourage your children to participate in the physical recovery process in age-appropriate ways. Although seeing one’s belongings destroyed can be heartbreaking for anyone, older children can feel closure and a sense of control if they’re the ones throwing out their damaged possessions or at least contributing to the cleanup effort.
Seek opportunities for your family to serve others who are in a similar or worse situation
Encourage your children to join the aid effort for other families. Showing compassion increases gratitude and awareness of the needs of others. I’ve worked alongside several teenagers mucking out houses, and they have shown amazing work ethic to help those in need. Other kids went door-to-door delivering lunches for those of us working in houses. The kindness we’ve seen has brought so much unity and support in our community, and our children should see and be a part of it as much as possible.
If children have been directly or indirectly affected by a natural disaster, they may regress to younger behavior such as bed-wetting, separation anxiety or thumb-sucking. Sometimes when they lack the ability to verbally express their feelings, children can develop negative behaviors such as aggression, depression and others. As you spend more time with your children, reassuring them that you are all together and safe, and listening to their concerns and feelings, those behaviors should subside in the days, weeks or months after the events.
If regressive behavior continues – or just to supplement your own efforts to help your children cope – consider seeking professional counseling for yourself and your children. Even if you decide you don’t want the help of a counselor, still use a support network to buoy up you and your children, including friends, family, your kids’ teachers and other community members. The road to recovery for those who endure major disasters is long, expensive and difficult. If you have weathered a natural disaster, it doesn’t have to fall on your shoulders alone to heal and sustain your family.
Pray for and with your children
Prayer really works. God is the best listener – you don’t need to shout, nor cry out loud, because He hears even the very silent prayer of a sincere heart. God understands our prayers even when we can’t find the words to say them. Allow your children to hear and see you seeking God for peace, comfort, strength and wisdom for the way forward.
For more information about the Influencers Summit, contact Eleanor Miller at (242) 636-2213 or email info@RicardoMiller.com.