Harvey leaves behind children seeking solace

 

Almost a month after Hurricane Harvey made landfall, we're all still feeling the effects of its devastation.

Drive around anywhere in the Crossroads, and you'll see piles of brush, businesses missing their signs and homes overtaken by downed limbs and collapsed roofs, left abandoned because they are no longer fit for living.

But then there are the people. With people, it's not always easy to see the damage.

While we hear more from adults about how they're dealing with the aftermath, there are voices that don't always come over so clear, and those are the voices of our area's children.

As most districts start their school year for a second time, it's important to remember that although they may not always know how to verbalize how they're feeling, children greatly feel the effects of what has happened.

Our recent story about Shields Elementary School students writing about how they felt before, during and after Hurricane Harvey illustrates our point.

It's truly heartbreaking to hear how some of these elementary-aged students feel. Worries about family, personal safety, fear, sadness and anger showed through some students' writing.

We applaud Victoria school district for having the foresight to see that writing out your thoughts is a great exercise in releasing bottled feelings. We're also thankful that the school district is taking those students who are dealing with the most issues and working with them one-on-one.

Kim Motley, VISD's counseling coordinator, says anxiety, withdrawals and changes in school performance are some ways students may exhibit troubled behavior.

So how else can we help?

It's simple. Let's listen to our children. We must remember that as parents and guardians, our children hear and see everything going on around them. When you're depressed or angry, your child sees this.

If you're crying all the time because you're not sure how you're going to make ends meet, your children see that.

As a parent or guardian, we challenge you to protect your children while not lying to them about the situation. Use positive tone and words to make them feel safe and as normal as possible. Explain what has happened, but reinforce the positive about what people are doing to make things better.

Even when everything is looking bleak, keep this positive attitude. If you're cleaning up your home, that may be a good chance to have your children help along with you - if the clean-up is safe, of course. Helping out can make children feel useful, and it may help them feel like they are strong enough to pick up the pieces. It's all psychology.

Of course, we understand that life right now for many isn't easy. Some have been evicted and others have no choice but to live in their unlivable homes. This is a tough situation.

At the same time, we also challenge our area school districts to keep doing more for children. The counseling and personal writing is a great first step.

Perhaps now is the time for school districts to recruit more mentors. Befriending an adult who isn't a parent could help children talk about what's happening in their home life.

We must also remember it's not just the hurricane itself that can scar children. The process before the hurricane can begin anxiety issues for some, according to the National Association of School Psychologists.

The process of gathering supplies, preparing and listening to the potential impact can create fear and anxiety in kids, just like it does in adults.

Going forward, let's do what we can to help our area children go back to a new normal.

This will take time and effort, but it will take all of us - from parents and teachers to community members - to help ensure our children remain as happy and hopeful as possible.

This opinion reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.

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