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Help kids cope with the devastation of Katrina

The outpouring of grim news from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina could be hard for some children to handle.

By KATHERINE SNOW SMITH, Times Correspondent
Published September 3, 2005

Parents need to take that into account, as they balance keeping up with developing events and their children's exposure to the outpouring of news coverage, said Ruth Peters, a clinical psychologist in Clearwater who specializes in treating children.

Parents should not dwell on the hurricane devastation or watch it constantly on the news. And they should think about how their child reacts to bad news. If he or she is going to immediately fear what's happening on TV could happen here at any minute then that child shouldn't watch or read the news at all, she said.

"Give that (type of) kid the basic information but not all the details. Tell them it rained really hard but they don't need to know about all the deaths," Peters said.

Whether a child is prone to high anxiety or not, they are going to wonder if the same scenario could happen here at some time. While you can't promise Tampa Bay will never be in a hurricane's path, especially if they are old enough to remember last year, it does help to let kids know you have a plan, Peters said. Show them the water stored in the garage, the flashlights, the radio and tell them where you would evacuate to if the family had to leave home.

And at some point, even adults need to turn off the TV and change the subject. "You're not hurting anybody by not talking about it. It doesn't mean you don't care; it means you care too much," Peters said. "Watching it over and over isn't going to help (the victims) and it may mess you up."

Here are a few more tips that were sent home with Hillsborough County students after the tsunami hit the Indian Ocean in December.

  • Encourage children to express their feelings.

  • Let them know it's normal to feel upset.

  • Allow children to cry or be sad. Don't expect them to be brave or tough.

  • If behavior at bedtime is a problem, give the child extra time and reassurance. Let him or her sleep with a light on or in your room for a limited time if necessary.

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