Print Friendly and PDF

No matter where you live in the world, at some point you'll likely face at least one type of natural disaster, whether it's a simple thunderstorm, a long power outage from a snowstorm, flooding, an earthquake, or even a house fire. Such events can be stressful and traumatic for adults. As parents, we also worry about protecting our kids and helping them get through natural disasters.

I live in Houston, and in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, we have a lot of work for both physical and emotional recovery. In the process, we can't forget our kids are recovering from trauma as well.

1. Make a plan

Believe it or not, helping your kids through a natural disaster starts long before the natural disaster strikes. Create an emergency plan in advance and discuss it as a family. When or if a disaster comes, hopefully you and your children can act more quickly, calmly, and efficiently.

Michaela Fuller, a Houston resident and mother of three, often talked about her family's contingency plans over the phone with out-of-town family. One day, as she told her children to put on their shoes quickly and get in the car, her son asked, "Is it time to abandon the house?" Although young, he was aware of the plan and wanted to make sure his family followed it to keep them safe.

Sometimes even the best laid plans don't fully prepare you. In the case of Hurricane Harvey, although weather experts knew it would be extreme, they couldn't predict how badly the rainfall and flooding would affect the Houston community. However, a family emergency plan gives you a better chance during a crisis.

2. Make it as fun as you can

Sometimes you can make the situation light and fun. If you're seeking shelter from a tornado at night, collect everyone for a family sleepover. During power outages, bust out the board games and get creative with games and food recipes. Obviously, try to stay appropriate with jokes or light discussion about the situation according to what you and your children can handle and the severity of the natural disaster.

As a Houstonian whose house wasn't flooded in Harvey, I've been aiding my neighbors and friends in Houston muck out their homes. Some of the homeowners I've met, while devastated to lose so much, joked that they had too much stuff anyway. They smiled and focused on what they did have. It has boosted everyone's morale.

Although I appreciated seeing lighthearted footage of people kayaking in the Harvey flooding, I winced seeing people, especially kids, swim in it. With debris of all kinds (including sewage), alligators or snakes in the water, and the potential of getting swept away, it isn't worth the risk of getting sick, hurt, or killed just to amuse yourself.

3. Keep your kids close

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) young children feel most insecure about being left alone and getting separated from their loved ones. As the natural disaster occurs and also afterwards, try to keep your children physically close to you. Hug them and verbally reassure them you're all together and safe.

That being said, after the disaster, try to resume your normal routine as much as possible. Continue normal bedtimes as you are able. As daycares and schools reopens, return to routines that are comforting to children, but be aware that children will likely be extra clingy and need extra care and reassurance.

4. Be honest with your kids

In accordance with their ages, communicate to your children the facts of the situation both during and after. In many instances, they need to know the facts so they can use the plan you've created or at least understand what's going on. Many sources, including FEMA, recommend limiting media exposure and conversations that children may overhear to content appropriate for their ages, their sensitivities, or your specific situations to prevent any further trauma.

Also, let them express their feelings honestly. You feel fear and should talk about it with another adult, so let your children do the same with you or a counselor. Their feelings are just as valid, and talking about them will help children heal after a crisis.

5. Give them control

As helpless as you feel in a potentially devastating situation, remember that children likely feel even more so. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, adults need to try to give children power over at least a few daily choices so they have some control over their lives. It can be as little as what game to play or song to sing next. Any amount of control you can give them only adds to feelings of security.

6. Read books with them

As with just about any topic in life, there are children's books about facing and recovering from natural disasters. Some include familiar characters children know and love, such as Clifford, while others include no words at all. Choose whichever ones you think will be the most helpful for your children.

7. Let them help

Allow and encourage your children to participate in the physical recovery process in age-appropriate ways. Although seeing their own belongings destroyed can be heartbreaking for anyone, older children can feel closure and a sense of control if they're the ones throwing out their damaged possessions or at least contributing to the cleanup effort.

Especially for kids and families who weren't affected by natural disasters, encourage your children to join the aid effort for other families. Showing compassion increases gratitude and awareness of the needs of others. I've worked alongside several teenagers mucking out houses, and they have shown amazing work ethic to help those in need. Other kids went door-to-door delivering lunches for those of us working in houses. The kindness we've seen has brought so much unity and support in our community, and our children should see and be part of it as much as possible.

8. Be patient

If children have been directly or indirectly affected by a natural disaster, they may regress to younger behavior such as bed-wetting, separation anxiety, or thumb sucking. Sometimes when they lack the ability to verbally express their feelings, children can develop negative behaviors such as aggression, depression, and others.

As you spend more time with your children, reassuring them that you are all together and safe and listening to their concerns and feelings, those behaviors should subside in the days, weeks, or months after the events.

9. Get help

If regressive behavior or symptoms of PTSD continue – or just to supplement your own efforts to help your children cope – please consider seeking professional counseling for yourself and your children. Many agencies provide resources and guidance for children's mental health recovery.

Even if you decide you don't want a counselor's help, still use a support network to buoy up you and your children, including friends, family, your kids' teachers, and other community members. The road to recovery for those who endure major disasters is long, expensive, and difficult. If you have weathered a natural disaster, it doesn't have to fall on your shoulders alone to heal and sustain your family.

The very best of Motherly — delivered when you need it most.
Subscribe for inspiration, empowering articles and expert tips to rock your best #momlife.

Subscribe for inspiration, empowering articles and expert tips to rock your best #momlife.

Thanks for subscribing!

Check your email for a confirmation message.

There are few kids television shows as successful as PAW Patrol. The Spin Masters series has spawned countless toys and clothing deals, a live show and now, a movie.

That's right mama, PAW Patrol is coming to the big screen in 2021.

The big-screen version of PAW Patrol will be made with Nickelodeon Movies and will be distributed by Paramount Pictures.

"We are thrilled to partner with Paramount and Nickelodeon to bring the PAW Patrol franchise, and the characters that children love, to the big screen," Spin Master Entertainment's Executive Vice President, Jennifer Dodge, announced Friday.

FEATURED VIDEO

"This first foray into the arena of feature film marks a significant strategic expansion for Spin Master Entertainment and our properties. This demonstrates our commitment to harnessing our own internal entertainment production teams to develop and deliver IP in a motion picture format and allows us to connect our characters to fans through shared theatrical experiences," Dodge says.

No word on the plot yet, but we're gonna bet there's a problem, 'round Aventure Bay, and Ryder and his team of pups will come and save the day.

We cannot even imagine how excited little PAW Patrol fans will be when this hits theatres in 2021. It's still too early to buy advance tickets but we would if we could!

News

In the middle of that postpartum daze, the sleepless nights, the recovery, the adjustment to a new schedule and learning the cues of a new baby, there are those moments when a new mom might think, I don't know how long I can do this.

Fortunately, right around that time, newborns smile their first real smile.

For many mothers, the experience is heart-melting and soul-lifting. It's a crumb of sustenance to help make it through the next challenges, whether that's sleep training, baby's first cold, or teething. Each time that baby smiles, the mother remembers, I can do this, and it's worth it.

FEATURED VIDEO

Dayna M. Kurtz, LMSW, CPT a NYC-based psychotherapist and author of Mother Matters: A Holistic Guide to Being a Happy, Healthy Mom, says she sees this in her clinical practice.

"One mother I worked with recounted her experience of her baby's first smile. At eight weeks postpartum, exhausted and overwhelmed, she remembered her baby smiling broadly at her just before a nighttime feeding," Kurtz says. "In that moment, she was overcome by tremendous joy and relief, and felt, for the first time, a real connection to her son."

So what is it about a baby's smile that can affect a mother so deeply? Can it all be attributed to those new-mom hormones? Perhaps it stems from the survival instincts that connect an infant with its mother, or the infant learning social cues. Or is there something more going on inside our brains?

In 2008, scientists in Houston, TX published their research on the topic. Their study, "What's in a Smile? Maternal Brain Responses to Infant Facial Cues", takes data from the MRI images of 26 women as they observed images of infants smiling, crying, or with a neutral expression.

The images included the mother's own infant alternated with an unknown infant of similar ethnicity and in similar clothing and position. In each image, the baby displayed a different emotion through one of three facial expressions; happy, neutral, or sad. Researchers monitored the change in the mothers' brain activity through the transitions in images from own-infant to unknown-infant, and from happy to neutral to sad and vice versa.

The results?

"When first-time mothers see their own baby's face, an extensive brain network appears to be activated, wherein affective and cognitive information may be integrated and directed toward motor/behavioral outputs," wrote the study's authors. Seeing her infant smile or cry prompts the areas of the brain that would instigate a mother to act, whether it be to comfort, care for, or caress and play with the baby.

In addition, the authors found that reward-related brain regions are activated specifically in response to happy, but not sad, baby faces. The areas of the brain that lit up in their study are the same areas that release dopamine, the "pleasure chemical." For context, other activities that elicit dopamine surges include eating chocolate, having sex, or doing drugs. So in other words, a baby's smile may be as powerful as those other feel-good experiences.

And this gooey feeling moms may get from seeing their babies smile isn't just a recreational high—it serves a purpose.

This reward system (aka dopaminergic and oxytocinergic neuroendocrine system) exists to motivate the mother to forge a positive connection with the baby, according to Aurélie Athan, PhD, director of the Reproductive & Maternal Psychology Laboratory (a laboratory that created the first graduate courses of their kind in these subjects).

These networks also promote a mother's ability to share her emotional state with her child, which is the root of empathy. "A mother cries when baby cries, smiles when baby smiles," Athan says.

While there's a physiological explanation underlying that warm-and-fuzzy sensation elicited by a smile, there may be other factors at play too, Kurtz says.

"In my clinical practice, I often observe a stunning exchange between a mother and her baby when the latter smiles at her. A mother who is otherwise engaged in conversation with me may be, for that moment, entirely redirected to focus on her little one," Kurtz says. "This kind of attention-capturing on the part of the baby can enable and cultivate maternal attunement—a mother's ability to more deeply connect with her infant. The quality of attunement in early childhood often sets the stage for one's relationship patterns in the future."

Whether a physiological response, a neural activation, simple instinct, or the tightening of emotional connection, the feeling generated by babies' smiles is a buoy in the choppy ocean of new parenthood.

And while the first smile may be the most magical by virtue of its surprise and the necessity of that emotional lift, the fuzzy feeling can continue well into that baby's childhood and beyond. It keeps telling parents, you've got this!

[This was originally published on Apparently]

Life

Chrissy Teigen is one of the most famous moms in the world and definitely one of the most famous moms on social media.

She's the Queen of Twitter and at least the Duchess of Instagram but with a massive following comes a massive dose of mom-shame, and Teigen admits the online comments criticizing her parenting affects her.

"It's pretty much everything," Teigen told Today, noting that the bulk of the criticism falls into three categories: How she feeds her kids, how she uses her car seats and screen time.

"Any time I post a picture of them holding ribs or eating sausage, I get a lot of criticism," she explained. "Vegans and vegetarians are mad and feel that we're forcing meat upon them at a young age. They freak out."

FEATURED VIDEO

Teigen continues: "If they get a glimpse of the car seat there is a lot of buckle talk. Maybe for one half of a second, the strap slipped down. And TV is another big one. We have TV on a lot in my house. John and I work on television; we love watching television."

Teigen wants the shame to stop, not just for herself but for all the other moms who feel it. (And we agree.)

"Hearing that nine out of 10 moms don't feel like they're doing a good enough job is terrible," she said. "We're all so worried that we're not doing all that we can, when we really are."

The inspiration for Teigen talking publicly about mom-shame may be in part because of her participation in Pampers' "Share the Love" campaign. But even though Teigen's discussion coincides with this campaign, the message remains equally important. Advertising can be a powerful tool for shifting the way society thinks about what's "normal" and we would much rather see companies speaking out against mom-shame than inducing it to sell more stuff.

Calling out mom-shame in our culture is worth doing in our lives, our communities and yes, our diaper commercials. Thank you Chrissy (and thank you, Pampers).

News

Dear fellow mama,

I was thinking about the past the other day. About the time I had three small boys—a newborn, his 2-year-old brother and his 5-year-old brother.

How I was always drowning.

How I could never catch my breath between the constant requests.

How I always felt guilty no matter how hard I tried.

How hard it was—the constant exhaustion, struggling to keep my home any kind of clean or tidy, how I struggled to feed my kids nutritious meals, to bathe them and clean them and keep them warmly dressed in clean clothing, to love them well or enough or well enough.

FEATURED VIDEO

Those years were some of the toughest years I have ever encountered.

But mama, I am here to tell you that it doesn't last forever. Slowly, incrementally, without you even noticing, it gets easier. First, one child is toilet trained, then the bigger one can tie his own shoelaces, then finally they are all sleeping through the night.

It's hard to imagine; I really really get it.

It is going to get easier. I swear it. I'm not saying that there won't be new parenting challenges, that it won't be the hardest thing you have ever done in your life. It will be. But it will get easier.

These days, all of my kids get the bus to school and back. Most of them dress themselves. They can all eat independently and use the toilet. Sometimes they play with each other for hours leaving me time to do whatever I need to do that day.

I sleep through the night. I am not constantly in a haze of exhaustion. I am not overwhelmed by three tiny little people needing me to help them with their basic needs, all at the same time.

I can drink a hot cup of coffee. I do not wish with every fiber of my being that I was an octopus, able to help each tiny person at the same time.

I am not tugged in opposite directions. I don't have to disappoint my 3-year-old who desperately wants to play with me while I am helping his first grade bother with his first grade reading homework.

And one day, you will be here too.

It's going to get easier. I promise. And while it may not happen today or even next week or even next month, it will happen. And you will look around in wonder at the magnificent people you helped to create and nurture and sustain.

Until then, you are stronger and more resilient than you can even imagine.

You've got this. Today and always.

Love,

A fellow mama

Life
Motherly provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. This site does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.Your use of the site indicates your agreement to be bound by our  Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Information on our advertising guidelines can be found here.