For kids not directly affected by Superstorm Sandy, news of the devastation can seem at once far away and close to home. Especially for kids who’ve been following news reports of so much devastation or for those whose friends or family have been severely impacted, “Helping out is a good coping mechanism,” says USC Professor Wendy Smith, an expert on disaster mental health and child development.

A powerful way to help is by enlisting your child to send useful items or gifts to pals, cousins, or other kids who have suffered loss in Sandy’s wake. “One really great thing for kids not [affected directly] by the storm to do is brainstorm what they value the most,” Smith says. In the process, you’ll get the chance to help your child talk through her concerns and channel her energy into thinking about what she finds comfort in — and by extension what may comfort another child right now. The benefits are threefold: you’ll help your child process and manage her worries while learning about — and helping — kids in need.

For families who suffered great loss, any item that conveys comfort, connection, or even entertainment can help bolster spirits. Depending on a child’s age and needs, the following items are recommended:

  • Soft, cuddly things (stuffies, pillows, security blankets) that give tactile comfort can be really helpful, especially for younger kids.
  • Pictures of the child and the child’s family and friends may help them feel reassured and connected.
  • Clothes that represent something they feel connected to, like a favorite team’s jersey or a school sweatshirt.
  • Toys for younger kids who’ve lost their own.
  • Games that are light, portable, and don’t require power (board games, cards) will be easiest to use immediately.
  • Art supplies. For younger kids, a coloring book and crayons or sticker book are ideal. For older kids, a journal and colored pencils. Other possibilities: modeling clay, paper dolls, and other crafts that are portable and easy to use.
  • Music-oriented gifts. A battery-powered CD player and CDs by favorite artists may be nice for adolescents.
  • Favorite books. Look for something that matches the child’s interest. This can include the latest book in a series you know a child likes or a new copy of a tried and true favorite.

These are just a few ideas. Anything that fortifies feelings of safety, normalcy, and connection, Smith says, are likely to help.

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Updated: March 4, 2016