Thursday, January 26, 2012

Responding to Kids/Teens After a Disaster

With the possibility of more severe weather in the coming days, we hope that the following tips can help you prepare your children and ease any anxiety they may experience. Since the storms of January 23 were so recent, it would be considered normal for them to have more weather-related anxiety.

*This article first appeared on our Ask Anne Blog after the April 27, 2011, tornadoes.

In the wake of the recent tornadoes, we'd like to share some ways you can help the children and teens in your life as they process what happened.

First, you must make sure your children's basic needs are met. They need to know they are safe, will have food to eat and have a roof over their heads. Once those needs are met, then you can focus on helping them cope. Neither children nor adults can cope until those basic needs are met.

Secondly, remember kids and teenagers are resilient. (
Read more about resiliency on our Ask Anne Blog) But, when disaster strikes it could be difficult for them to navigate the waters back to normal functioning. All kids and teens will react differently. Their reactions will depend on the level of exposure to the actual event, level of personal loss or injury, level of parental support, dislocation from their home or community, and preexisting risk factors such as previous traumas. No matter what their level of response, children and teens need adults in their lives who make them feel safe and okay. Whether you are a parent, friend, teacher, pastor, children's minister or shelter worker, you have the ability to instill resiliency in a child's life.

Listed below are some ideas of how best to respond to children and teens after a disaster:

1. Acknowledge their feelings
- Children need for you to empathize with them and listen to what they are saying. Don't dismiss them, thinking that this did not affect them because they are young. They need to know that what they are feeling is normal and that they will feel better. Continue to tell them their feelings are normal and let them know what else they might expect to feel.

2. Talk about the event
- Whether we are talking about it or not, kids know what is going on. Talk to them about the events that have happened in an age-appropriate way. Dr. Alan Wolfelt says, "If children are old enough to love, they are old enough to grieve."

3. Remain Calm
- Remember that your kids will take their cues from you. Admit to your child how you are feeling, but reassure them that you and they will be okay. When you talk about your feelings, it will give them permission to talk about theirs. Make sure you are taking care of yourself too, so that you can remain calm while talking.

4. Routine, Routine, Routine
- When disasters strike, kids need routine. Try as best as possible to return to your normal life. If that is not possible, try to create a new normal. Kids need to feel safe and okay. Kids feel safest when the same boundaries are in place that were there before the storm. Encourage kids to play or schedule time with friends if possible. Children often cope through repetitive play or by acting out the events they have seen. This is normal and healthy for children.

5. Encourage Them to Cope
- You can help facilitate their ability to cope by using both verbal and non-verbal avenues. Have a child draw out what they are feeling or they saw. You can also have a child act out the events. Some children will want to talk about it over and over or ask multiple questions. Keep supporting and talking. You don't have to have the answers, but being available to your child will make all the difference.

6. What has worked before
- There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Talk to your children about what has worked for them in the past when they have been upset. Children and teens have coping skills. Sometimes they just need to be reminded of what they are.

If you are still concerned for your child a few days after the event, be on the look out for the symptoms below or major changes in your child's behavior:

  • Refusal to return to school and "clinging" behavior, including shadowing the mother or father around the house
  • Persistent fears related to the catastrophe (such as fears about being permanently separated from parents)
  • Sleep disturbances such as nightmares, screaming during sleep and bedwetting, all persisting more than several days after the event
  • Loss of concentration and irritability
  • Jumpiness or being startled easily
  • Behavior problems, for example, misbehaving in school or at home in ways that are not typical for the child
  • Physical complaints (stomachaches, headaches, dizziness) for which a physical cause cannot be found
  • Withdrawal from family and friends, sadness, listlessness, decreased activity, and preoccupation with the events of the disaster***

If your child or teen is exhibiting these behaviors and you are concerned about them, contact your pediatrician or a counselor. We will be happy to work with you and your family as best we can as well. Feel free to give us a call if you have more questions: 1-866-991-6864.

*This column is not intended to substitute for an actual session with a licensed counselor.

If you have a question you would like to ask, EMAIL US: or leave a comment. We would love to answer one of your questions.

**As found on their website,, National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day is a key strategy of "Caring for Every Child's Mental Health." This is part of the Public Awareness and Support Strategic Initiative by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. The effort seeks to raise awareness about the importance of children's mental health and that positive mental health is essential to a child's healthy development from birth. For more information about National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day, click here.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Our Body as a Temple

Q. I have been thinking about my body being the temple of God. I want to do a better job of taking care of my body and wondered if you knew of any small changes I could make to be healthier. Any suggestions?

A. Today's question will be answered by Cathy McDaniel, social worker in Birmingham, with our parent ministry, Alabama Baptist Children's Homes. Cathy has taken a personal interest in fitness and has seen great success.

Thank you for the timely question; with the new year many of us begin to set goals while re-evaluating our current course of action. I must agree with you that our body is the temple of God and deserves to be treated with respect and honor. If we treated our church buildings the way we often treat our bodies, our buildings would be crumbling to the ground – and God is much more concerned about His children than He is a building.

With that said, please read on for some practical and easy suggestions for a healthier lifestyle.
1. Begin by acknowledging that losing weight, getting in shape, anything you do to be healthier, is as much a spiritual journey as it is as a physical one. Romans 12:1 states, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.”

There may be assignments or blessings that God desires to pour into your life, but due to the state of your health, He is not able to do so.

Spend time in prayer with the Lord. Acknowledge that it is your will to give your body to Him so that He can utilize it for His glory. Seek the Lord, asking Him to guide you in the changes He desires for you to make. And then seek His assistance, as, without Him, none of us have the power to make the long-term changes required for improved health.

I often join Paul in praying as he did in 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and He will do it.”
2. Secondly, I like that you asked for small changes. Too often we try to change everything all at once and become overwhelmed and discouraged. The battle for good health is a lifetime commitment. Start by making small changes and as those changes become a normal part of your routine,you can initiate more changes and before you know it, you are miles down the road.
· More and more processed foods have entered the American diet. These foods are convenient, but they are also loaded with calories, artificial flavors and colorings, preservatives, and fats. Try to be aware of what you are eating, and when possible, chose natural, whole foods. Add in whole grains, lean meats and whole fruits and vegetables. I once had a mentor state it this way, “Shop the perimeter of the grocery store instead of the inside aisles. This is where you will find fresh produce, meats and dairy.
· Be aware of portion sizes. “Extra-size it” has become the cry of the American consumer. However, these large portions add extra calories to our diets. Educate yourself on appropriate portion sizes, and take measures to not over eat. Suggestions include halving a meal with a friend or asking for a takeout container prior to beginning of your meal. That way, you can place the extra food in the container and then eat what is left on your plate.

· Plan ahead and plan accordingly. Know your weaknesses and be aware of what your day holds. If you know you will be going into a situation that is challenging for you, be prepared. For example, I never go hungry into a social situation where I know there will be a lot of snack foods. Instead, I eat a small healthy meal first, and this helps me to say “no” to the foods that I will only regret eating later.
· Remember that there are no easy answers. Weight loss comes down to burning more calories than you eat. Be aware of how many calories you consume each day. The best way to become aware of what you are eating is by writing down everything you eat. There are many websites which can help you keep record. It may shock you to discover how many calories you are consuming throughout the day. Then evaluate how many calories you are burning. The human body was made to move– how are you moving yours? Remember, not everyone is made to join a gym – there are many ways to move your body, including walking, hiking,swimming and playing tennis. If you have not exercised in years, then simply think back to a sport you used to enjoy and slowly get back into it.
· Pay attention to who you eat with. Most of us tend to eat the same amount of food as the people we dine with. This can hamper women, who in general, are smaller than men and require less calories, but often consume the same amount of food as the men they eat with. There is no way around it; if you are 5 feet, 2 inches tall, your body simply does not need as many calories as someone who is 6 feet tall.
3. Finally, see this as an adventure and do not be afraid to try new things. The more variety you have in your diet the more options you have to eat a well-balanced diet. By trying new foods or by giving old foods a second chance, you may broaden your horizons. The same goes for physical activities. Just because you have never done something does not mean you can’t start now.
Blessings, and may the Lord sanctify you spirit, soul and body!