MENDOCINO Co., 8/11/18 — The majority of the people evacuated from the Mendocino Complex have been able to return home this week, but for some, the stresses caused by the ongoing fires and the rebuilding process is still very active. Many in our communities have felt the impacts of these fires, whether or not they are directly affected, or have been reminded of the difficulties faced in past wildfires — and these emergency situations can also have a significant impact on children.
Here at The Mendocino Voice, we know many parents that have struggled with explaining the scope of the wildfires to their young ones, or are looking for information about how to teach their children about how to understand and be prepared for ongoing wildfires in our region. Although the immediate danger from the fires has receded in most of Mendocino and Lake counties, there are a variety of resources that are being organized to help families cope with the stress of an emergency by local professionals, and we'll be publishing those resources as they become available.
Jannah Minnix, the children's librarian at the Ukiah branch of the Mendocino County library, has been helping out in the CalFire incident command center, visiting children in evacuation centers, and also organizing a variety of workshops and projects to help with fire recovery. Minnix has compiled a list of resources for parents who are seeking advice for their children about how to talk about and prepare for wildfire emergencies.
Here's some information and resources she shared included below.
You can get more information about how to cope with disaster from the Adventist Health Howard Hospital chaplain. If you know someone who needs to connect with resources or you want to help, here's our Mendocino Complex resources guide, information about wildfire smoke, and how to safely remove ash from your home.
Here's the list from Jannah Mannix:
Some key points I've noticed are:
- Understanding that children may be frightened, upset, anxious, insecure, and confused. Some may have trouble sleeping or demonstrate sadness or fear, or not want to be apart from their family/caregivers.
Grown-ups ought to:
- Remember to take care of themselves first. Think of it like an air mask when there's an emergency on a plane. If you can't breathe, how can you help your child?
- Recognize risk factors such as direct exposure (being evacuated, witnessing or experiencing injury to oneself or others), loss/grief relating to friends or family, or secondary effects causing stress like loss of people, property, displacement, bills/debt, a parent losing their job, or other big negative life changes.
- Talk about the event with their child. Start by asking what they have already heard about it and what understanding they have reached. Listen for "misinformation, misconceptions, and underlying fears or concerns (healthychildren.org)." Then calmly give a simple, concrete, factual explanation of what happened. Older children might want more detailed information, and that's okay. The caregiver should determine what level of detail is appropriate for their child to know. It is okay to say you don't know why something has happened. Be honest with them.
- Encourage the child to talk about their feelings and ask questions, but don't force the issue. If they have trouble with this, allow them to draw a picture of how they feel or tell a story about it. Listen to the child.
- Reassure the child. Let them know about the people working to help the community recover, including firefighters, electric company repair crews, law enforcement, shelter volunteers, etc. Tell them about what's being done to keep the child safe. Hugs help, when the child seeks them.
- Re-establish predictable daily routines.
- Spend extra time with the child, such as at bedtime.
- Empower the child - get them involved with updating the family disaster plan or by contributing something meaningful (to them) to help others; e.g., donating items to a local shelter, raising money for disaster relief, or making cards or posters for first responders. This can help with the child's resilience.
- Watch for unusual behavior in the child: mood changes, sleep disturbances, changes in eating habits, social withdrawal, acting out the event obsessively to the extent that it interferes with other activities. Younger children may become hyperactive, wet the bed, or throw tantrums more frequently. Older children may experience sadness, problems at school, or engage in risky behaviors like alcohol or drug use. There may be a cause for concern if the emotional reactions are severe, if they last for a long time, or if they prevent the child from getting through normal activities. If these persist more than a couple months, it may be time to seek help from a health care provider.
Coping with Disaster
Children and Disasters (FEMA)
Wildfire Resources - The National Child Traumatic Stress Network
Responding to Children's Emotional Needs During Times of Crisis https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/emotional-wellness/Pages/Responding-to-Childrens-Emotional-Needs-During-Times-of-Crisis.aspx
Talking to Children about Disasters
How Children of Different Ages Respond to Disasters
Helping Traumatized Children: A Brief Overview for Caregivers (Bruce Perry) https://childtrauma.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Helping_Traumatized_Children_Caregivers_Perry1.pdf