Kids and water are usually a pretty good combination. But, when the water involves an epic flood situation, children, especially young children, are likely to experience a range of emotions when dealing with flooding, displacement and general uncertainty.
There are at least three sources of stress that young people will try to process: the sudden and unexpected turmoil associated with flooding; the ongoing family disturbances in routine due to evacuation, repairs and financial issues; and the changes in stress levels and fluctuating emotions of the adults in their life.
The various reactions are normal and will be unique to each child, depending on their age, experiences, temperament and maturity. There may be an increase in crying, whining and angry outbursts. Sleep issues might include difficulty falling and staying asleep and nightmares. Fears will be heightened, especially the fear of being alone or being separated from those they love. Some children may regress to earlier childhood behaviors as a means to cope with their anxiety, insecurity and fears. Other children may develop symptoms of physical illness and complain of headaches, stomachaches and vomiting. One of the most difficult issues for kids will be the general feeling of loss. Children will experience a loss of place, pets and people. Items that are important to the child may not be accessible due to storage, displacement or destruction.
Holly M. Arnold serves with the NDSU Extension Service in Ward County.
Nurturing adults are the key to helping youth successfully maneuver the ups and downs during the flood fight and recovery stage. It is important for adults to manage their own emotions since children often mirror the reactions of those around them. Acknowledge your child's feelings and suggest and model appropriate means for them to express themselves. Allow your child to keep important objects close at hand, especially those related to security and comfort such as stuffed animals, blankets and pictures.
At a time when very little seems normal, keep routines as they provide security and safety for kids. Children may not be sleeping in their bed or their house but bedtime can remain the same. Continue to offer nutritious meals and snacks. Encourage time with friends, play, physical activity and visits to displaced pets. Accept help and assist young people in helping others in the community. Be attentive to children's verbal and non-verbal messages. Make only promises you can keep. And most importantly, dole out extra hugs, encouragement and "I love yous."