It’s not an easy situation for anyone fleeing the Fort McMurray wildfires, but it’s made harder for parents who have to explain what’s happening to their children.
Nadine Gariepy-Fisk, director of programs and services at Hospice Calgary, says there are two things parents need to focus on when discussing the fires: reassurance and comfort.
This means sharing some information about what exactly is going on, as well as the basic details, including where the children will be sleeping, who will be with them, and when they’ll be getting their next meal.
“Also to say, ‘We’re here, we’re together, this is what we have, this is how we’re going to do things. This is difficult. We’re sad, we’re confused, we’re upset about this, but we’ll figure this out. We’ll figure this out together,'” she said.
Gariepy-Fisk adds, children will have a lot of questions, and will be worried about their homes and their friends. However, they are able to tell when their parents are stressed, and some might not share how they are feeling.
“We may see it, however, in their expressions, in how they may be clingy, or they may get frustrated really easily,” she said. “For us to reach out and open that space and say ‘Hey I’m pretty upset about this, and I miss this.’ To be able to open that door is really helpful to invite them to engage with that.”
She suggests offering children the tools they need to draw or write as a different way to cope with their feelings.
Gariepy-Fisk also says it’s natural for parents to be glued to the news and social media for updates, especially because the situation is developing and changing so quickly.
“I think for all of us, it would be a good thing to be able to remove ourselves from that once and a while to be able to ground ourselves, and also be available for each other. Really turning to each other, giving our full attention to members of our family.”
Any evacuees who are looking for support can visit the 2-1-1 website, which will offer a wide range of resources for those who need them.