Sadly, the recent tragedy in Surfside, FL happened in our backyard, and we are devastated for our local community. Naturally, little ones are picking up on our broken-hearted mood—perhaps even hearing about the collapse at from friends at camp or on the news. So, what’s the best way to discuss this moment with your kids? We turned to Hatch + Bloom’s Evelyn Mendal, who has been volunteering on the scene in Surfside with families affected by this disaster. Since Evelyn is an early childhood mental health therapist, her experience and advice are greatly appreciated right now.
Evelyn, we are so grateful for your service and dedication to the families affected by the building collapse in Surfside. How did you start volunteering there and what has your experience been like?
There’s a Jewish organization called Cadena, which is dedicated to disaster relief all over the world. They immediately sent a relief crew to the site at Surfside and put out a call for local therapists to help out. By Friday morning, a group of therapists—including me—was on site for the crisis. I don’t even have crisis training, but they needed all hands on deck. We are there to support the families and to make sure their basic needs are being met. We do everything from making sure they eat and getting phone chargers and tissues to listening to their stories and keeping them calm and grounded. I’ve been there almost daily. The whole community has come together to help them, and they will need our support for a long time. There are so many layers to this trauma, and mental health is paramount.
Let’s talk about the mental health of our children, especially those who live here in 5300 Kerteminde. What is the best way to approach discussing this tragedy?
Local kids have a higher chance of being exposed to this news at camp, summer school or from friends. It’s better for parents to deliver this news. If you are very affected by this tragedy, your kids will notice shifts in your mood. Children can pick up on the stressed energy of adults around them. And when kids don’t know what’s going on, it’s scarier for them. It’s healthier to connect the dots for them: Why people are talking about this, what’s happening, etc. I learned from Mr. Rogers to always talk about the helpers, and how they are keeping us safe.
What about kids who live in a building? They may be scared that something will happen to their building, too.
This is where you say, “buildings don’t fall, this building had so many problems.” Distinguish that this was a very rare and unique situation. Focus on how they are safe and personalize it. For example, show them that the walls are strong.
What other advice do you have for navigating through this crisis?
Be honest. I’m all about honesty with kids. Keep it simple, you don’t have to be graphic. Explain what to expect, “you may see people crying.” Let them ask you what they need to know, they will lead. And not having all the answers is ok. If you don’t know, you can say, “I don’t know that right now.” Focus on the helpers and the great work they are doing.
Thank you so much for your service and advice. How can we help? Which organizations need support?
The needs are always changing, so I suggest donating to organizations that are on the ground. They are working with the families directly and know what is needed. The Shul of Bal Harbour has created the Surfside Tragedy Central Emergency Fund. The funds will be dispersed directly to the victims and families. You can also donate to Cadena, the organization I am working with.
Listen to Evelyn’s IGTV on talking to children about the tragedy: