Recent wildfires have your little ones scared?

By Katie Chicklinski-Cahill Herald staff writer

Houses engulfed in flames. Planes bombing wildfires with showers of red slurry.

Videos, stories and photographs of wildfires throughout Colorado have been front and center for the last week. Unsettling for adults, to be sure, but what about children?

Try as parents might, media images are hard to avoid. Harder still may be trying to strike a healthy balance of actions and words to help calm children afraid of what they haveseen.

“We’re all interconnected,” said Eileen Andricovich, a marriage and family therapist in Durango. “Children will respond to the tension around them.”

Andricovich said parents must keep in mind their chid’s age when dealing with frightening events such as wildfires.

Very young children don’t yet have the cognitive ability to understand that the fires and surrounding tension and anxiety are not about them, while children around ages 11 and 12 are developing abstract thinking and are better able to see the big picture, she said.

So what can parents do? Andricovich offers these steps:

Check yourself. Take a mental inventory of how you are feeling because emotions such as tension and anxiety are radiating out to yourchildren.

Talk about it. Once you are calm, tell your child about the fires, but don’t go overboard with the details, Andricovich said.

Let your child ask questions. Hear your child’s reality, Andricovich said. Be open-minded and listen to their concerns.

Roy Marlowe, a therapist and counselor from Idaho who volunteers for the Red Cross, has been in Mancos helping provide support to people affected by the Weber Fire.

Like Andricovich, Marlowe said the most effective thing parents can do to help their children through traumatic events is to convey feelings of safety and confidence – “We’re going to be all right. We’re going to be OK.”

He said if parents, whom children view as infallible, can stay calm, cool and collected, their kids will feel that everything is OK.

Also important is for parents to try to keep things as normal as possible – even in an abnormal situation.

Parents can tell their kids: “We’ll still be here as a family, as a unit,” Marlowe said. “We can get through this. Life goes on.”

Marlowe also recommends parents try to maintain a sense of humor for their children.

Let them know that: “Sometimes, bad things happen,” he said. “It’s OK.”

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