Helping our children (and ourselves) navigate the emotional impact of the Boulder floods
The floods that took place in Boulder and throughout Colorado last week changed the lives of so many in our community, perhaps forever. While the immediate danger seems to be over and we are on our way to picking up the pieces and rebuilding, I want to take some time to acknowledge what we have experienced and the emotional impact it may be having on us.
It is clear that our amazing community is flocking together in a powerful way in the aftermath of these historic floods. This is the connection and gratitude that a powerful event such as this can bring to light—we are all in this together. It sometimes takes an event such as this to guide us into acting congruently with that truth. Simultaneously, however, I am seeing a lot of trauma responses that indicate a heightened level of fear pervading our community. Some of us have been in “go-mode” throughout all of this, working around the clock to help others (or ourselves) clean up basements, clear out mud and debris, organize clothing drives, find housing etc. We have willingly sacrificed health, time, energy and more in order to remedy the situation and/or help others. Others of us have totally checked out and are going through the motions of our day-to-day existence while numbing out to the reality of the devastation that has happened around us.
However you choose to respond to it, the heightened level of fear and anxiety that is in our collective field is having an impact on you. I see it in the children I work with—parents bringing them in saying, “I don’t think she’s too perturbed by it.”—when in session the child demonstrates deep and intense feelings of fear and overwhelm directly related to the flood. I see it in myself and my friends—giving and helping until we become run down, overwhelmed or depleted, no longer being able to serve anyone effectively. In order to move through this experience without losing ourselves, it’s so important that we acknowledge the emotions and energy that are around us. And for children, it is all the more important that we talk to them about the floods since it has impacted them directly and significantly.
Here are some tips and strategies for communicating with children about what’s happened. And some important strategies for all-around self-care in the aftermath of a traumatic event:
*Stay in your body. Feel your feet on the ground. Breathe fresh air.
*Self care is not selfish. We don’t have to be martyrs and it can’t all get done at once. Take time out to be kind and gentle to yourself.
And specifically when talking to children…
*Let them know the truth of what has happened in an age-appropriate manner.
*Talk to children about the feelings that you’ve had throughout all of this and where you feel them in your body. Let them express their feelings to you.
*Let your child know that he/she can ask you questions about any of it and you’ll do your best to answer. Remember that it’s ok to say, “I don’t know.” Never tell a child, “It will never happen again.” Rather, you can say, “Things like this happen very rarely and our community works hard to prepare so that people, houses and schools are safe.”
*Stay focused on feelings of safety and togetherness. Amidst the anxiety it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that we are ok, even if we have endured a lot. Talk to children about how glad you are that your family is safe, that you can go to the store and get the things you need, etc.
*Help your children stay in their bodies. Massage them, have them dig in dirt or sand, take walks, swing, play, dance and sing.
*Limit exposure to media. Turn off the news when they are home. Children do not need to be exposed to constant images of destruction. By turning off news when children are home you can better ensure that the information they receive comes from trusted adults, especially yourself.
*Use art and play to allow children to express what they are feeling. Pay attention to the feelings that arise as the child is playing, drawing, etc. rather than the actual content. Play is a phenomenal way for a child to process a stressful or traumatic experience.
*Take time away from your clean-up efforts to spend time and connect with your children. In the wake of a natural disaster, they need that one-on-one time now more than ever.
*Children are concrete thinkers so concrete facts and information can help them understand a situation. Use resources to help them understand the natural phenomena that caused the flooding. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a great website for kids on weather: http://www.crh.noaa.gov/gid/?n=weatherforkids.
If you feel like you need more help or support for communicating with your children about the flood, please feel free and call me. I am happy to help you create a narrative to share with your child about this experience or offer any other support you may be needing in this intense time.
Remember, children learn best by observing the adults around them. Practicing good self-care, staying grounded and being open to the emotions that arise are some of the best ways you can help your child move through this experience with greater ease.