When life is rolling according to plan, it’s parents of teens who’ve prepared their speech for when that call comes in after midnight.
But many parents are wondering how to reassure children that home is still a safe place to be, especially since many were evacuated with a knock on the door in the dead of night with flames from the Beaver Creek Fire licking the hills behind their Hailey homes.
Confidence of parents is paramount in guiding a child, local experts say. Parents who lack the information to be credible cheerleaders for their kids can find it by starting with the The Advocates, a local nonprofit, or at the Red Cross shelter at the Hailey Community Campus, where volunteers versed in how to respond are there to offer counseling and support.
“Most children want to talk about a trauma,
so let them.”
Experts with these organizations say children offer great cues about what they need.
While many can file an event away for dramatic recollection, some may revert to old behaviors like bed-wetting or have trouble sleeping.
Older children may show their anxiety by being quick tempered or wanting to be alone more than usual.
All these things are normal and can usually be talked through in a family powwow.
Talking about a plan for the future, being proactive, is important for kids that are just learning how to thrive within a structured environment. This empowers kids by making them feel some camaraderie of spirit.
“Young people react to trauma differently than adults.
“Some may react right away; others may show signs that they are having a difficult time much later,” said Darrel Harris, education and prevention coordinator for The Advocates.
“Most children want to talk about a trauma, so let them.
“It is helpful to let them express their emotions through conversation, writing, drawing, and/or singing,” she said.
Harris said accepting their feelings and validating them as normal goes a long way.
“Accept their feelings and tell them it is okay to feel sad, upset or stressed.
“Crying is often a way to relieve stress and grief. Pay attention and be a good listener. Allow them to ask questions,” she said.
It is probably best to limit access to news so kids have time away from reminders about the fires. Along those lines, talking about the trauma should not be allowed to take over family discussions for long periods of time.
If someone in the house seems to be wallowing in the past, it’s an indication things are beyond normal for him or her.
In addition to planning, children can use helping others as a coping mechanism.
“They can write caring letters to those who have lost their homes; they can send thank you notes to firefighters, police, Red Cross volunteers or others who are helping in the community. Encourage these kinds of activities,” Harris said.
Adults can also show children and youths how to take care of themselves. They can model self-care by setting routines, eating healthy meals, getting enough sleep, exercising and taking deep breaths to handle stress.
An old Chinese proverb says “the fish rots from the head.” It’s a lot like the modern saying, “If mom’s not okay, nobody is.” That’s worth remembering as adults try to help kids get back to normal.
Adults need to take care of their personal mental health and if they are having trouble processing the events, or, perhaps the events have triggered something from the past and it feels like you can’t cope, Harris recommends reaching out for support.
The Advocates can be reached at 788-4191.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness Wood River Valley also has an office in Hailey that connects people with support groups and referrals to mental health specialists. Call 309-1987 or visit email@example.com.
The St. Luke’s Center for Community Health is also a resource at 727-8733.
Grief is a feeling that often accompanies a traumatic experience, and no one has to go it alone.
Ketchum’s Hospice and Palliative Care of the Wood River Valley at 726-8464 has grief-specialists on hand.
The Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have created a webpage for kids at www.ready.gov/kids with games and talking points.
Health officials say that they will be here long after the Beaver Creek Fire recedes into memory.