It’s hard to believe that a few months ago, California was still in a deep drought, with many concerns about the lack of water. Now, after multiple atmospheric rivers, many people’s lives have been turned upside-down (yet again) by events they have no control over. It’s heartbreaking to see the devastating impact of the storms and floods on families, many of whom already faced challenges meeting basic needs. While the water may recede, the emotional ripple effects of the loss, disruption, and uncertainty will last a long time. Giving and receiving mutual support and aid is more important than ever.
This monthly column provides tips for anyone who is helping raise children, based on the world-renowned Triple P – Positive Parenting Program, available to families in Santa Cruz County. If you have a question or idea for a future column, email me at email@example.com.
My family had to evacuate in the middle of the night because of the floods. We had to throw away a lot of our clothes, furniture, and toys because they were damaged. Luckily, my aunt is letting us stay with her until we find another place to live, but it’s crowded and my kids are missing their beds and toys. They’re 4 and 6, and they keep crying and whining that they want to go home. I know they’re scared but I don’t know what to tell them. What should I do?
I’m sorry to hear your family was impacted so severely by the floods. The loss of housing and belongings creates stress and uncertainty that affects the well-being of all family members. Here are some tips to try:
Take care of yourself. This may seem impossible to do or the lowest of all the urgent priorities, but it’s important to care for your own physical, mental, and emotional health so that you can care for your family. Take deep breaths, listen to music, cry, be physically active, or do something creative. Doing this every day, even for a few minutes, makes a difference.
Provide reassurance and emotional support. Being uprooted from familiar surroundings and routines disrupts children’s sense of security and stability. They may feel a range of emotions, including fear, anxiety, sadness, anger, and grief for the things they left behind, such as their toys, beds, and the place they called home. Some children express emotions with words (so you know what they’re thinking and feeling), while others may express emotions through behaviors — crying, whining, fighting, defiance (which still gives you a clue about what they’re thinking and feeling). And then other children might appear to be happy and adjusting well on the outside but they’re experiencing emotional turmoil on the inside. In all these cases, the disruption may affect children’s eating and sleeping patterns or ability to concentrate.
Reassure your children that you’re in a safe place, then validate their feelings. Tell them you understand they miss their home and toys and that it’s hard to move suddenly to a new place.
Recreate familiar routines. Consistent routines create predictability, which can be very reassuring in stressful times. Try to create daily routines that feel familiar, even while you’re in a different environment. As much as possible, follow your usual routines for waking up; going to school, child care, or work; meals; playtime; family time; and bedtime. Turn those routines into quality time by talking with your children, giving them your full attention, and showing affection. This will help build positive memories and create a sense of normalcy for your children.
Have realistic expectations. It’s hard and scary for everyone to cope after life-changing events, like a flood. There may be times when you’ll need to adjust your family rules and expectations, schedule, or parenting approach. Remember there isn’t one “right” way to respond to a situation like this, so be patient with yourself and your children if emotions get messy or unpredictable. Having realistic and flexible expectations can help reduce your stress and teach children coping skills they can use throughout life.
Seek and accept support. Remember it’s a sign of strength to ask for (and accept) support when you need it. This also helps reduce stress, creates a sense of community and connection, and teaches children about empathy and compassion.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Being displaced after a flood can be a traumatic experience for both parents and children. Positive parenting strategies can help parents and caregivers support children’s emotional well-being and resilience, even in the midst of extreme disruption and uncertainty.
Nicole Young is the mother of two children, ages 19 and 23, who also manages Santa Cruz County's Triple P - Positive Parenting Program, the world's leading positive parenting program. Scientifically proven, Triple P is made available locally by First 5 Santa Cruz County, the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency (Mental Health Services Act) and the Santa Cruz County Human Services Department. To find a Triple P parenting class or practitioner, visit http://triplep.first5scc.org, http://www.facebook.com/triplepscc or contact First 5 Santa Cruz County at 465-2217 or firstname.lastname@example.org.