Kids suffer post-hurricane stress

September 19, 2008 3:53:41 PM PDT
Parents may be noticing that their children are having trouble sleeping, or may not want to eat. It could be anxiety, even though the hurricane hit a week ago. Some children can have post-hurricane trauma that shows up months from now. For many children, their anxiety began with the exploding transformers.

Allison Assel said, "I was really scared when I saw the transformers going out because there was this eerie green light we would see and this loud noise and it really scared us."

Then there was the wind...

"We all got really frightened because the tree was swaying back and forth really badly, and it scared us back inside," recalled Lauren Assel.

There was just no way to protect children from hearing, and sometimes seeing, the powerful winds and rains of Hurricane Ike.

UT Houston Psychologist Michael Assel, PhD, said, "The people close to the coast and south Houston - those children in particular - can have fairly significant stress reactions. Those people in the center of Houston where it was just tree limbs going down, a lot of those kids slept through the night."

Dr. Assel says watch your kids for certain signs. "Disturbed sleep patterns, nightmares, disrupted eating patterns," he said.

It might happen now -- or three months from now. Assel, whose own children Lauren and Allison were anxious, advises parents to talk about the hurricane. His family tried something unusual.

"We sent them out and said we're going to have a contest and go out and see who can do the most acts of kindness throughout the day," Dr. Assel recalled.

Kids took ice to neighbors and gave out lemonade. And the kindness became contagious.

On Sunday when it rained, "We were watching the floodwaters rise and rise in the street. And a 17-year-old Bellaire High School senior walked out in his hip boots and started cleaning the drains and then all the dads said maybe we should go help," Dr. Assel recalled. "We all went out and neighbors started talking to one another. Then we figured out who had generators and who didn't have generators running cords back and forth across the street."

Acts of kindess that began by happenstance bonded neighbors and helped reduce anxiety for both children and their parents.

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