Last week's ice storm froze the daily routines of hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians. Some of us have been without electricity for more than a week. Several have chosen to stay at home and ride out the storm, but others have sought refuge with family, friends or in community shelters. The loss of power and shifting of schedules has made this a stressful time not only for adults, but also children.
Major weather events can be scary for children, especially those who have never been through or don't remember other hazardous situations. Like us, children are used to the conveniences that electricity makes possible such as warm water, lights, telephones, microwaves and television. Without it, simple tasks such as taking a warm shower or fixing dinner can become challenging. As parents, caregivers and community members, we should make sure that the basic needs of children in our area are met. If their needs can no longer be met at home, seek help from family, friends and neighbors. Many community shelters also are open in several counties for those that need assistance.
Children may experience a wide range of emotions during this time. As caring adults and parents, we want to help children cope with the effects of the winter storm. Children will deal with this event in their own ways. Some will want to talk about what has happened and even want to play while others may feel too upset or confused to talk. It is important that we are sensitive not only to their physical needs, but also emotional needs.
During trying times, some of us may tend to focus on negative aspects and become overwhelmed by stress. It is important that we do not transfer these feelings to our children. Remember children constantly watch adults for guidance. If children see us as being stressed, it may also trigger stressful or sad feelings with them. Research has shown that children will cope better with disasters if their parents cope well. If you are feeling too overwhelmed by the situation, now is the time to lean on your neighbors for support. Talk with them about your problems, but keep these adult conservations away from the eyes and ears of your children. This way you don't have to "be strong" and hide your emotions from your children, and it will keep these emotions from transferring to your children.
Remember that while you may be off your normal routine, so are your children. This can be very difficult for some children to cope with, especially if they are in school. With many school and after-school activities being postponed for more than a week, your children could be missing the social interaction with their peers. Talk with your children if you believe they are feeling down. Remind them that while this is a difficult time, eventually everything will return to normal. Make time for your children. Something as simple as playing cards or board games with your children could help lift their spirits. This could be a good time to tell stories of past family events when everyone worked or played together. Singing favorite songs, sharing riddles, or playing counting games can help families have fun together and reduce stress.
Your local Cooperative Extension Service is always available to help provide assistance in times of emergencies. From carbon monoxide safety to tree damage, county extension offices have winter weather emergency information available to help families make it through the aftermath of the ice storm.
Source: Carole Gnatuk, UK Child Development Specialist