It was the first week of August. I sat on the wooden deck looking beyond the canal and over the little houses on the shoreline into the bay. The water in the canal was still, but I could feel the fresh ocean breeze that offered relief from the thick Texas humidity. The mornings were so tranquil that the canal looked as if it were a sheet of glass until a fish would jump out of the water and make a ring that rippled into waves. I would look up from my book and study the row of houses across the canal. The seaside bungalows were mostly homes that had been built decades ago, and varied in coastal colors that ranged from peach to blue to beige. It was quiet expect for the splashes and giggles of my almost six year old as she swam in the pool and practiced her “cannon balls”. It was only the two of us each morning, as my husband and his father took my two older kids bay fishing. Vacationing in the small fishing town of Rockport, TX has become a family tradition. For generations, my husband’s family has vacationed in this hideaway. It is a quaint town where my husband has made memories as a child, and then well into adulthood. It is where he enjoys his greatest hobby, and where he has turned into what my kids and I call “the fish whisperer”.
Just a few weeks later the peaceful shoreline that brought us rest and relaxation was devastated by Hurricane Harvey. The same house that we rented for our family was hit with force winds that reached 140 miles per hour and was completely destroyed. My husband’s hometown of Houston is now under water, and many of our dear friends have been evacuated from the flooding, or are housing other friends and family members whose homes are now submerged. My father-in-law’s home of twenty years is on the west side of Houston near Katy. We feel very fortunate he was out of town during this event, and are very thankful the flooding in the streets of his subdivision did not reach his doorstep. We love to call Waco home, but like so many people in the state of Texas we have pieces of our hearts in Houston and in the areas that are entrenched in the wave of this catastrophe. For those of us who live in Waco, our houses and belongings were spared, but Hurricane Harvey really did hit close to home. Most Wacoan’s, and Texans in general, have friends and family who were affected by this horrific national disaster. Almost everyone we know has been contacting loved ones, and our communities, churches, and organizations have come together to raise money, send supplies, and boats in order to help those in need. Those of us that stay behind ache at the images we see and long to know how to help our dear ones who are in danger. We cannot fathom what the people in these flooded areas are going through, or the trauma many of them have faced. There is no way for us to understand what it is like to lose everything in the magnitude of this catastrophic event. In places like Waco, we are not “in the tragedy,” but most of us are very linked to it in one way or another. For many of us, our children are also connected to these places, and day by day they too have watched this unfold. For our children, the areas affected are where they have spent summer vacations. Many of their earliest memories of holidays and time with family are connected to Houston.
Like so many, our T.V. has been locked on the weather channel, as well as news reports in order to receive updates regarding areas we know so well. As we watch this story unfold we are reminded to help our children understand and learn how to deal with their emotions when they see the pictures of devastation. As parents, we all deal with hard situations in different ways based on our own personalities. Even in our differences, there are basic rules we can remember in helping our children learn to cope with stressful news and circumstances, not just with Hurricane Harvey, but with other tragic current events. Quite frankly, scary and heartbreaking events have become a common occurrence. As this world turns, we continually face the reality that we must help our children learn how to cope. Below are some helpful links written by professionals that can educate us on how to teach our children to deal with tragedy.
Over the last few years my husband, Mark, and I have had to guide our young children through several situations dealing with death and difficulty. We are not experts by any means, but we have found these recommendations in these articles to be very helpful, and have used them as a set of guidelines. However, as parents we know our children better than anyone else. We know what their little personalities and tendencies can handle. It is important to listen to professional advice, but we can also customize these tips to appropriate apply them to each individual child. My son will be eleven next month. He has a much greater curiosity and need to discuss issues in more depth to process and understand what he sees in the media. Our son can obviously handle more of the details because he is older than our nine and six year old daughters. All three of our children have certainly asked questions, and need to be reassured that this is not a usual situation. We can usually tell what their individual needs are by the questions they ask. Mark and I are always reminded that just because our girls are younger does not mean they don’t pick on the details. Just the other evening we sat down to dinner, and our six year old volunteered to pray. She thanked God that her Papa’s house was not flooded. Precious words of thanks.
Below are a few points my husband and I have learned to consistently rely on, and have tried applied to when walking our kids through hard circumstances, or discussing tough issues. Please note these suggestions are based upon our views from a couple of hours away when it comes to the recent events of Hurricane Harvey. However, in the last few years our family has faced death, and difficult circumstances where these guidelines have applied and have worked well.
- Be Practical
- Try to lay out the facts in a calm approach.
- Stick with the basic facts.
- If a child asks for more information answer them one fact at a time.
- Be Age Appropriate
- Give as much information as you think your child can handle.
- The older children usually want to discuss the situation in greater details.
- The younger the child the more general a parent can be when giving answers.
- Always answer your children’s questions
- If you do not know the answer to a question it is o.k. to say “I don’t know”, or “I will have to think about that and let you know when I find an answer”. If we do not know how to answer tough questions this gives us time to think how we will respond.
- Answer questions as honestly as possible
- It can be tough to give honest answers, but that does not mean you have to go into more detail than what your child can handle.
- Be Real with your Kids This one is our FAVORITE
- Children can sense when someone is not authentic.
- Being real with your kids will allow them to relate to you, and better relate to the world around them.
- Express Healthy Emotions & Maintain Composure
- I realize this seems like an oxymoron, but kids need to understand that expressing emotion is normal.
- It is o.k. for kids to see you express sadness or disappointment.
- However, if a parent has difficulty with over reacting, maintaining composure, or acting out of fear, he or she should probably consider removing his/herself from the presence of the children.
- There have been several instances where I have removed myself until I regained my composure.
- Serve as Family & Help Those in Need
- Include your children when purchasing, gathering, and organizing supplies
- If we want to teach our children how to serve others they must see us in action
- Helping others as a family builds and strengthens the family unit
When it comes to our fellow Texans, and disasters like Hurricane Harvey, we decided the best response we can give to our children is to include them as we help the people in need. We hope and pray that by working together as a family, and involving our kids in the process of providing supplies and resources, that our actions will teach them how to respond to tragedy in a positive way. I have seen my friends in Houston involve their children in the recovery efforts. I have great respect for the way they are handling the situation. Even through necessity, they are instilling character into their children’s moral fiber.
Our children learn compassion by the way we are compassionate towards others. Our children will learn how to serve by serving alongside of us. Our children will learn how to offer help by the way we help others. Our actions are our greatest teachers.
To our loved ones in Houston and South Texas,
We continue to pray for our fellow Texans, and vow to do our part as we send supplies and extend help. We are Waco, and we are with you as you begin the long road to recovery.