Thursday, October 2, 2008

Keeping Your Kids Happy in a Natural Disaster

My dear sister has graciously agreed to contribute based on her recent experience during Hurricane Ike. They did not evacuate and I asked her to share her experience with us so that we can be better prepared for the effects of this kind of disaster on our children. Thanks Erin!

Our family just came through Hurricane Ike. We live just outside of Houston and while our home did not have any real damage, we were without power for 13 days. Yes -13 days folks! And while FEMA tells you that you should be prepared for 72 hours that does not mean that ice, water and food will all be READILY available in 72 hours, just that they will start to get things out in that amount of time. It also doesn’t mean that in 72 hours the crisis is over and the rebuilding has started. Thirteen Days without power is a lot to deal with, physically, emotionally and mentally. It’s a lot for children to handle. Particularly when they have to back to school, you have to go back to work and life is resuming around you. Mimi has asked me to write about keeping your children occupied during a time of disaster. I hope I am able to give you some bits and pieces you can use and that will be helpful to your family.

The day before and the morning of the storm the whole city was in upheaval, all of Houston basically shut down. The lines for gas were hours long, Wal-Mart looked like a war zone and people all over were panicking. My first bit of advice for your kids is that you focus on what needs to be done and NOT leave the news on all day so they can hear that doom, gloom and devastation are on their way. My younger daughter who has been potty trained for months had 2 accidents on Friday before the storm. She was very clingy and whiny. It serves no purpose for them to be scared more than necessary. My suggestion would be to have a TV or radio on somewhere away from the children so that you can have up to date info without having them have to worry.

During the storm my older daughter slept the whole time so we didn’t have to comfort her or keep her busy at all. The 3 yr old was agitated and awake a lot of the time. We kept her occupied by letting her hang with Dad and make sure everything was ok, she had her own flashlight and stayed right with him. Giving her a job seemed to really keep her mind off of things, and hanging out with Dad helped her to feel safe.

For the first week we were blessed with Beautiful weather. I didn’t have too worry much because we were outside the majority of the day and then fell into our beds at night.
We slept in the tent most of the nights and that made for a little bit of an adventure. The girls love camping so to them it was big fun. It was VERY dark in our neighborhood and we were able to see more stars than normal. We also played flashlight tag and hide and go seek.

Putting the girls to work was a great way to pass the time. They helped to clean the debris up, take drinks to their Dad and uncles and set up the tent. Being outside was the biggest blessing! The kids got to have unstructured play outside and as a sometimes over cautious Mom I had to let go a little. Knowing and trusting our neighbors made a huge difference because we were able to take turns with the kids to give each other a little bit of a break.

The second week when we had to go back to school and work it was a little--no--a lot more trying. We had to find ways to go about our normal life without power. Getting up in the morning was tough because the girls had no real schedule. They were pretty tired of cereal bars but ate them anyway while I brushed hair and found socks in the dark. In the afternoons we did homework right after school so we didn’t loose daylight and then had easy dinners. We read a lot of books by flashlight and played a few board games. We colored and wrote in our journals and we even reorganized a couple of closets.

But the most influential thing during week two was Mommy. “When Mama ain’t happy- Ain’t nobody happy!” I really think through everything that there was no magic that kept the girls happy and entertained. It was just me- as long as I was happy, calm and in control so was our home and our children. My husband, Mike, was a great leader and took care of us physically, without him we wouldn’t have made it. However, if I had been a little more graceful we would have made it through with more smiles and a lot less tears.

So there it is, that’s my advice. The Mama is the most influential person in your home and if you are ok- they will be ok. It is hard to go through a disaster as a family- but it will make you stronger and it will expose the areas you need to work on. Your children do not need to be entertained every single second. Give them a little room to spread their wings. Don’t assume they are too little to help, give every person a part in making it work. Believe me, you’ll need all the help you can get. Be as prepared as you can and don’t be afraid to take advantage of help when it is offered. Offer help to others if you can and try as hard as you can to smile the whole time. Eventually you’ll really feel like smiling!