Ottawa

Mother says storm stress changed son's personality overnight

The children’s hospital in Ottawa says it’s getting more referrals about children suffering stress and anxiety following last month’s big storm.

CHEO sees referrals for kids still stressed weeks after scary May 21 derecho

Psychologist says some children may be feeling more anxious, worried and hypervigilant after the May 21 storm. (Rachelle Elsiufi/CBC )

Janine Corbett's five-year-old son gets rattled when there's a light breeze. Or if he sees a grey cloud in the sky. Rainy days are particularly hard for him. 

"Once the power came back on, we started to notice that our younger son was more fearful, more difficult to separate from us," she recalled. "He … has a lot of 'what if' questions." 

Corbett says her younger son's personality "changed overnight" after the devastating May 21 windstorm known as a derecho ripped through parts of Ontario and Quebec. His brother is also affected.

"They sort of watched our trampoline be picked up and take flight over the fence," Corbett told CBC.

"It was pretty traumatic to see something they see as a really heavy object that shouldn't move, just kind of be lifted up like a feather." 

Corbett said her eight-year-old son is doing better, but not by much. 

"It's a little bit easier to explain things sort of logically to him," she said. But they both still ask their mom for the weather every morning, something they didn't do before the derecho. 

"If he knows there's rain coming, [my older son] asks to look at the radar map on my phone so that he knows exactly what time the severe weather will be, so he can sort of mentally [prepare] for it." 

CHEO see more referrals 

CHEO, eastern Ontario's children's hospital in Ottawa, says it's getting referrals about children who are suffering stress and anxiety following last month's big storm, but psychologist Dr. Carole Gentile cautions against calling it a large influx. 

"That isn't to say that children aren't reacting to the experience of having gone through the storm and sort of coping with the aftermath of that, particularly those who may have been more severely affected," said Gentile.

The Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario says it’s getting referrals about children who are suffering stress and anxiety following last month’s big storm (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

She added for those who felt personally at risk, whose lives were disrupted, who may have been sensitive beforehand or who may have experienced previous trauma, the impact of the storm may be very different and can manifest in different ways. 

For many that could be increased anxiety or hypervigilance, while Gentile says older kids may be more prone to feeling defeated or unsettled.

A normal response

Gentile said parents can help ease their children's fears by normalizing their child's reaction. 

"It is absolutely appropriate and normal to be fearful after an experience that was sudden, that was big, that was potentially threatening," she said. "That's a normal response. And simply validating that in our kids is really helpful.

"So it might be more helpful to say, you know, it's understandable that you're afraid. And we were afraid, too." 

Dr. Carole Gentile says some children may be feeling more anxious, worried and hyper vigilant after the May 21 storm. (CBC)

As for Corbett, she is hoping time will alleviate some of her sons' anxieties. 

"I'm sure other families are in the same boat. I'm sure other people are experiencing this," she said.

"So hopefully talking about it normalizes it for more kids …You know they're not the only ones who are having these fears." 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachelle Elsiufi is a journalist with CBC Ottawa. She previously worked as a reporter with Citynews in Edmonton. You can reach her at rachelle.elsiufi@cbc.ca

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