Check in with kids now about how they experienced the Texas winter storms
For many of us, the back-to-back snow and ice storms and single-digit temperatures of mid-February were just hard. Some of us went without heat, electricity and water for days. Many of us have had trouble getting basics such as milk, meat and eggs. Kids have been out of school or daycare.
It was a lot.
Our kids might have proven their resiliency, shown us their grit, but some of them could be feeling scared or anxious. Could this happen again? If this happened, what else could happen?
Right now, parents need to listen to their kids. "Be magical listeners," says Jon Lasser, a professor of school psychology at Texas State University. Validate kids' concerns instead of saying things like "Don't worry. It's OK."
Instead, reassure them that you hear them and understand: "That was scary. That was difficult. I was cold, too. I understand how hard that was."
The conversation you have will depend on where kids are developmentally, and it will look very different for a 5-year-old than a 15-year-old.
"Kids are the best indication of what they can handle," says Allison Chase, regional clinical director of Pathlight Mood & Anxiety Center and Eating Recovery Center. "You want them to guide you. Some kids could be curious about this and want to know a lot."
Younger kids might not express their worries in words. Instead, they might express it during play by putting their toys into a blackout situation. Get on the floor with kids and play, but let them direct the play.
Give an honest answer when kids ask questions such as "Will this happen again?" It's OK to say you don't know, but that this kind of storm is a rare thing. "It should be simple and straightforward," Lasser says. "ERCOT should not be part of the answer to the question the child is asking."
Sometimes parents might want to move past the hard parts and concentrate only on the silver linings of the experience.
"Adults have a tendency to make everything great," Lasser says, "but we need to keep it in check."
If your thought is to wax poetically about "didn't we have fun playing checkers by the candlelight?" check yourself. You don't want to be dismissive of kids' feelings if they felt scared or worried while the power was out. That's why you listen for clues about how they are feeling.
One of the greatest things parents can do right now is get kids back to their normal routines.
"What happened was a disruption and kids thrive on routine and predictability," Lasser says.
If kids are showing signs of regression, such as bedwetting, sucking their thumbs, or wanting to sleep in a parent's bed, parents should take note. That's a kid saying, "I'm coping in the best way possible," Lasser says.
Don't make disapproving statements or be punitive about it. It will usually run its course, he says, but if it doesn't in a few weeks, it's time to seek help from a child psychologist to help work through the anxiety the kid is feeling.
Kids also might show signs of withdrawing from their normal routines, sleeping more, having nightmares, or not engaging socially. Their eating could be off, or their mood and affect might not be the same.
Give it a few days, but if behavior doesn't return to normal, don't wait too long, Chase says, before getting them help.
One of the best things parents can do for their kids is take care of themselves and check their own level of anxiety or trauma around the storms. Practice self-care such as meditation, deep breathing, mindfulness, checking in with a therapist, or whatever works for you to put yourself in a place where you are not exuding anxiety.
Just like when it's raining and we take out an umbrella, when we are stressed, we find ways to cope with the stressors so that we are protected, Lasser says. "The child sees that the manager of the system, which is the parent, is OK to take care of things," he says.
Our kids also can learn when parents have a hard time. Be honest with them. It's OK to say, "I was having a really hard time. I know I might have yelled and screamed a few times. I'm going to work on doing something different next time."
We all can learn from the experience. Kids (and parents, too) can feel empowered by making a list of things they want to prepare for next time. Suggestions include helping Mom and Dad stock up on items such as bottled water and canned goods, extra firewood, material to wrap pipes, better gloves and boots.
Psychologist Mike Brooks says he's about "playing the long game and trying not to sweat the small stuff."
"In every story, there's the negative, but there's also the 'what did we learn, how can we grow?" he says.
One of those big lessons is appreciating what we took for granted. We can focus on gratitude and all the helpers such as the plumbers, the people who handed out water, the people repairing the power. We can focus on our newfound appreciation for clean water flowing from the faucet, toilets that fill up with water on their own, heat and electricity, and hot showers.
"We have been learning from the School of Hard Knocks a lot lately," Brooks says. "A return to normalcy is going to seem like a bit of heaven."
Nicole Villalpando writes about parenting for the American-Statesman. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.