Teens who experienced Katrina as toddlers need special attention

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BELLE CHASSE, La.  (WGNO) - Increased stuttering, fear of traveling, bedwetting and anxiety over bad weather are all long-term effects on some of today's teens who lived through Katrina as toddlers.

“They don't have very vivid recollections but they certainly know they moved out of their house, they were somewhere else, that their parents weren’t sure of what was going on,” recalls mental health therapist Dawn Barras.

She says that sense of chaos can linger, even a decade, especially for kids who were displaced and had to change schools more than once.

During the next couple of days, she recommends families discuss what they’ll be doing on Saturday.

“For some families it might be important to participate in an event. For some families it might just be, 'This is the day we go shoe shopping so we’re going shoe shopping.’”

You may also want to monitor your teen's social media and television exposure this week.

“But also just simply talking to your kids and not just dismissing their feelings because a lot of parents like to think, ‘Oh well you were three, you don’t really remember very well' —and that’s not helpful for a 14 or 15 year old who maybe wants to talk about the situation,” notes Barras.

The American Red Cross has a fun way for families to bring up the subject: the pillowcase project was born in 2008, as a direct result of Katrina.

Who knew that a pillowcase could become a disaster supply kit? Kay Wilkins did. She’s the regional CEO of the American Red Cross in Louisiana.

Volunteers visit classrooms to share knowledge and inspire courage.

Wilkins shows off a blank pillowcase, and a finished product: “The inside of the circle the child would color while we were talking about the things that a family needs to do to be prepared for any disaster. For us mostly it's hurricane, but it could also be a fire or a tornado,” she explains, adding, "We have given that child strength, strength to work with any disaster that comes their way.”

It's a simple solution that's now being used to bring comfort across the country and even around the world.


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