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Published March 21, 2010, 12:00 AM

FROM THE ARCHIVE: Helping children face the flood

“Mommy, will the flood be in Fargo?” 3-year-old Olivia Kalbus asked her mother after hearing of flooding in another town.

“Mommy, will the flood be in Fargo?” 3-year-old Olivia Kalbus asked her mother after hearing of flooding in another town.

Kara Kalbus told her the truth. A flood was, indeed, coming to Fargo.

Olivia then wanted to know if the flood would be at their north Fargo home.

Answers to her daughter’s questions about this year’s flood usually “generate additional questions,” Kara Kalbus said.

She’s a “very inquisitive little girl.”

The looming flood and the tension that hangs thick in the air aren’t only a strain on adults. All the uncertainty can be tough for children as well. And it’s not always easy to know how to deal with those questions and stresses.

Kara Kalbus focuses on responding honestly to her child’s questions, maintaining as much routine and normalcy as possible, and reassuring Olivia that they will make sure she is safe.

“She kind of knows if I’m trying to give her a bluff answer,” Kalbus says.

And while she strives to be honest, Kalbus also aims to self-edit before she responds to the questions, giving enough information to satisfy curiosity without giving information that frightens her child.

As for routine, the Kalbuses enlisted the assistance of elephants to help maintain “some normalcy.” They saw the El Zagal Shriners’ pachyderm parade Thursday on Broadway and planned to attend the circus Saturday.

Kalbus can see the effects of the stress on her daughter in terms of her behavior. Lately Olivia has thrown tantrums, which is “out of the ordinary.” One evening she was scared to sleep alone in her bed, and lately she’s wanted “extra cuddles at night.”

Oakport resident Dulcie Hoff has also seen some behavioral changes in her 8-year-old son, Cameron. Yesterday, he was being “lippy and stuff.”

She decided to go out with him and do some sandbag work in the area. He told her it felt good to be able to be out and help other people. He also said he thought he “really worked up some muscles from doing that.”

Hoff says it’s important to get across the message that it’s “OK to feel what you’re feeling” but, at the same time, that you can’t “get consumed with it either.”

David Clutter, chairman of pediatrics at Innovis Health in Fargo, says parents need to “be calm themselves.” He says that being calm and deliberate is contagious “particularly” for children.

Similarly, June Forde, a licensed professional clinical counselor at Prairie St. John’s in Fargo, says children are very sensitive to a parent’s mood and anxiety.

“They may begin to parrot their level of anxiety,” she says.

As for young children, Clutter believes that if they’re not bothered by the flood situation, they simply don’t need to know more.

Clutter also says parents should never “do anything to imply that the child may cause things to get worse.” For example, a parent might tell the child that if they don’t behave, the family won’t have time to make things safe during the flood.

As a general rule, Forde would encourage parents of school-age children to initiate conversation about the flood. She says that if adults don’t talk about it, children may get the idea that it is a taboo subject, keep their concerns bottled up inside and, thereby, intensify their anxiety. Forde recommends allowing the child to dictate how much they wish to talk about it.

Of course, the flood affects some children more than others.

“Our kids just think it’s a big party,” says Moorhead resident David Stone, father of four boys.

“I like the flood,” said 8-year-old Chris Stone.

David Stone says his 13-year-old son, Daniel, has been saying all winter that he hopes a flood comes. Who could blame him? One night this week, the family had a hot dog party for volunteers who were helping out.

Still, their mother, Mary, says they do occasionally think about it and that she and David try to reassure them that “God will take care of us” and that if the water does get to their home, it’s “just stuff.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734

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