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Behavioral health experts explain how to talk to children after a natural disaster

KBAK/KBFX photo

A natural disaster can strike at anytime, in any place and even without warning.

Amanda Sorena, her three young children and husband have experienced the effects of a natural disaster firsthand. A few weeks ago, the family was displaced after Hurricane Harvey ripped through their neighborhood in Houston, Texas. Their home was flooded with several inches of water.

"It was just a matter of time before it was going to get into our house," recalled Sorena. "We were watching it, watching it rise literally."

Sorena said talking to her young children about the hurricane and their loss has been challenging because of the uncertainty of the future.

But during the catastrophic storm, Sorena found a way to keep her children safe.

"We pulled them aside and said you know water is probably going to come in the house, but don't worry we have a plan," said Sorena.

Behavioral health experts said Sorena did everything right during that frightening time. Natural disasters can be traumatic for children, but experts recommend having a plan in place and having an open dialogue with children about what is happening. They say it can ease their anxiety.

"Listen to their concerns and take them seriously," said Jason Giffard, unit supervisor at Kern Behavioral Health and Recovery Center. "If we can get to the root of sort of those emotional fears that they are having, we can really step in and provide a calm reassuring presence that will help the kids feel safe."

Giffard also said validating their feelings and letting kids know that they are not alone, will help children cope with feelings of loss.

Sorena said that is something she had to do with her seven-year-old daughter, after all of her favorite books were washed away in the storm.

"She got really upset and I just had to sit there and cry with her too," said Sorena. "I'm upset too and it's okay for you to be upset because we are all having a hard time but the important part is that we are all okay. "

Kern Behavioral Health professionals are available 24/7 to talk to anyone who may be going through a mental health crisis. You can call their crisis hotline at (800) 991-5272.

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