Helping Kids Cope With Disaster

Mike Riera, parenting
In his speech to the country in the aftermath of the storm, President George W. Bush stated that "We are dealing with one of the worst natural disasters in our nation's history."

With more than 78,000 people in shelters and at least 200 dead - and the count rising hourly, it is truly a national disaster.

Parents and educators may question how much and what to tell children about Hurricane Katrina, especially about the rampant looting that has occurred in the aftermath.

The Saturday Early Show's family and adolescence counselor Mike Riera offers a few guidelines to consider when speaking with your children. He says to use what feels right for you, your child, and your family.

Talk but don't scare: Whatever you're discussing with your kids, be sure to pull back if you sense their fear. That means they are on overload. Younger kids especially need reassurances that they are safe.

Perfect the art of hanging out: Be available and askable and encourage their questions.

Avoid media saturation: Protect them from seeing the loops of catastrophic images and scenes of the worst images.

Engage their thinking: Explain what hurricanes are, and that they seldom if ever occur in northern California.

Watch them: If they seem worried, look to see if their anxiety shows in other areas: appetite, sleep, mood, concentration.

Stay home this weekend: If they are agitated, expect them to regress and need you more than usual. Read aloud a forgotten book; take a family walk; watch a DVD together.

Move anxiety to action: Review or create a family plan for disaster, encourage outlets like writing and art or volunteer with an organization that is helping in the relief efforts.

Make the looting personal: What would feel like to be looted? What would you feel like if you did the looting? Most aren't looting; reinforce the qualities that your family values most.