Saturday, April 10, 1999

Kids need help to overcome grief, fears

Experts: Focus on preparedness

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Kriste Kieffer holds her mother at the shelter at Benham Methodist Church in Ripley County, Ind.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
| ZOOM |
        Jackie McCormick likes thunderstorms, but when the wind starts to blow, she gets nervous. She tries to hide her fears from her 10-year-old daughter.

        “If a bad storm is coming, I try to be nervous in another room,” the 32-year-old Xenia woman says. “I don't want her to grow up and be afraid of storms.”

        Ms. McCormick knows first-hand how the children of Addyston, Blue Ash, Montgomery and other areas hit by Friday morning's storm may be feeling — the fears, the sadness, the loss. She was just 7 years old when a tornado devastated her town in 1974.

        She and Tristate experts shared their thoughts on how to talk to children in the storm's aftermath. Ms. McCormick advises parents to reassure their children.

        “"Things like this don't happen very often. Just because we have a bad thunderstorm doesn't mean we're going to have a tornado.' Listen to your kids, and let kids talk about what they're afraid of. Reassure them. "We're all OK. It was scary. I know you're sad you lost your favorite toys.'”

        Stay strong, she says. “It will take a long time for adults and kids to get over it. For years, we went in the basement even if it was just a thunderstorm coming. It takes a long time to heal.”

        Ms. McCormick, her parents and four siblings crouched in their basement as they heard glass shattering overhead and air pressure hurt their ears. No one was injured, but their home had structural damage and had to be torn down.

        “We were absolutely petrified,” she recalled. “For months after that, now even at 32, I'm up at 3 o'clock in the morning (Friday). I'm standing watching the wind blow.

        “I remember any time it would even start to rain, we'd be absolutely petrified it would happen again. That's how it started. We had been outside playing when it started raining. I remember wanting to sleep with my parents. There were five of us. How we could all sleep with them? I remember kind of sticking close to mom and dad after that.”

        Psychologist Mike White, testing and research director for the Princeton City Schools, says instead of focusing on fear, turn your children's attention to how they can be prepared if they hear sirens again:

        • Here's where we went this time. Where do we go next time? Practice the drill.

        • Let's get a box of things we'd take to the basement. What do we need? Where's the flashlight? Do we have batteries? Let the child put something in the box, even if it seems useless. “What that will be is their way of reassuring themselves,” he says. “I've got a piece in there, too.”

        • What if mom and dad aren't home? You know if we're not home, you guys can do the same thing, and here's all the stuff. We'll tell the babysitter what to do.

        • How do we tell what the sirens mean? “In Hamilton County, we've got different kinds of sirens,” Dr. White says. “I bet 75 percent of grown-ups cannot tell you the difference. Let's find out.”

        • Give the child a job to do if the sirens blow.

        “Now they're in charge, and they're not the victim,” Dr. White says.

        Remind the children that the tornado was a random act of nature, he says. If your home was destroyed, it doesn't mean the family is bad or the child is bad. There is randomness throughout life. It helps keep things in perspective. The fight with your sister is not that big of a deal.

Talking to kids

Hope emerges from the rubble
Sirens worked, but some slept through
Families flew from their beds
Bengals coach: 'God's hand on me'
Driver got upside-down trip on freeway median
Photographer encounters death, devastation
House is a cheap price to pay for life
Community safe, serene and vulnerable
In Addyston and Ripley County, some feel blessed just to be alive
Survivors eager to swap stories
Two died in field; two died on roads
Adjusters quick to arrive at disaster
To file a claim
Dealing with storm aftermath
Don't rush repairs after storm
Tips to picking a contractor
- Kids need help to overcome grief, fears
Phones, power out until Sunday
Rescue team did tough job
Storm could spur support for tax levy
Storms' memories linger after damage is repaired
Mobilization was instant
Tornado tales
TV/radio stations had reason to boast
Volunteers grab chain saws, mops as workers untangle wires
At least 7 businesses destroyed
911 calls reveal confusion, fear