Kids resilient to evacuation stress, expert says

Despite the lifting of the evacuation order for larger parts of the South Cariboo over the weekend, the number of wildfire evacuees in Prince George hit a new high of 9,500 on Saturday.

More than 1,800 evacuees are children and according to BC Children's Hospital, it is important for families to remember that children and youth can experience heightened levels of stress in these traumatic times.

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"Most kids are resilient and will get through with the support of parents and loved ones," said Dr. Ashley Miller from the B.C. Children's Hospital.

"Kids are very practical so they miss their toys, home and routine. Parents can keep a routine to try and keep life as normal as possible by keeping set meal times, a set sleep schedule and having quality family time."

According to Miller, kids look to their parents to reflect how calm they should be in times of stress.

"Conversation is important and suited to the age level of the child," Miller said. "Talk about their feelings and concerns and give them an opportunity to express themselves."

It is also important to not deny the severity of a situation and to continue to show kids that caregivers are there for them and will support them with love, trust and support.

Signs of stress and anxiety include: difficulty sleeping, nightmares, headaches, stomach aches, worries and talking about bad things happening.

"For kids who have seen serious harm, these kids are the most at risk for post traumatic symptoms and will often replay the event, acting out or avoiding with aggression," said Miller.

By and large, most people get through. Practical support is most welcome as this could help with any feelings of isolation or hopefulness.

"Show your children you love them by being available. This is most important as well as listening and supporting parents, friends and relatives. And there are very helpful resources out there including a crisis line and the Cal Team Health Resource Centre," Miller said.

"For kids it's about keeping it simple and simple goes a long way."

Resources available for parents and caregivers to help their children cope and manage stress:

Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre: A provincial resource centre that provides mental health and substance use information, resources, and peer support to children, youth and their families from across B.C.

Breathr Mindfulness App: An app designed to introduce the concept of mindfulness, offering a variety of mindfulness practices, while also teaching them interesting facts about the brain science behind those practices.

MindShift: An interactive app designed to help youth learn how to relax, develop more helpful ways of thinking and identify active steps that will help them take charge of their anxiety.

mindcheck.ca: An online resource to help youth and young adults age 13-25 to check how they're feeling and quickly connect to mental health resources and support.

Stresslr: A free web app for children ages 9-11 to learn about stress, understand how they react to it, and develop healthy strategies to cope with stress in their everyday lives.

AnxietyBC: Information on how anxiety can express itself and effective strategies to address it in children, youth and young adults.

For more information, visit: www.bcchf.ca.

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