Q: My family was swamped by Hurricane Sandy. We're back home and school is open, but my 8-year–old son isn't sleeping, and he fights going to school. Should I let him stay home for a while?
A: No. He needs to be in school. Experts agree that after meeting basic survival needs, the most important thing we can do for children who have experienced a natural disaster is to restore the routines of school. This is why UNICEF delivers School-in-a-Box kits, along with food and medical supplies to children in developing nations who are displaced from their homes.
While you may have moved on from crisis mode, the impact is still very real to your son.
"Kids need three things from parents during an event like this," says Marissa Gehley, founder of KNOW (Kids Need Our Wisdom) Consulting and an expert on kids in crisis.
"First, they need to be heard," she says. "Don't ignore it. Listen to what they are thinking. Get them to talk about what happened. Ask your son what his biggest fear is. Speaking calmly, without emotion, place the event in perspective with facts. Limit television to avoid overload, and if he does watch, make sure you're with him to answer questions."
Second, empower your son to help.
"An 8-year-old can be a part of a team to help others, such as collecting for the Red Cross," says Gehley. "This constructive response helps him assume some sense of control."
Third, make sure he knows what to do in case of emergency, Gehley says.
"Teach 'emergency thinking,'" she says. "Every family should have a safety plan that is posted and easy to implement. Include a communications plan (place a copy in his file at school), phone list and a safety kit with supplies."
When you create the plan, put your son in charge of something important, such as checking the batteries in emergency lanterns every six months.
"Many families don't create a safety plan with their kids because they think it will worry them needlessly," Gehley says. "To the contrary! Kids who are involved in the plan feel safe and cared for, and they're more likely to be able to function appropriately when an emergency strikes."
The whole family should help create the plan. Ask "what if" questions. What if the family isn't together when emergency strikes? Who is someone everyone can call to check in? Does everyone know where supplies are? What would be taken and what would be left behind?
"Don't just make the plan and post it on the refrigerator door -- rehearse it once every few months," says Gehley. "Kids are familiar with fire drills at school; this is no different."
Be sure to alert his teacher that he's having a hard time dealing with the aftermath of the hurricane.
"Kids bring concerns to class, and it's a good place to clear up misconceptions," Gehley says. "Many teachers, especially since Sept. 11, are trained to help kids deal with traumatic events. Classroom discussion could actually help your son."
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)