Dealing with heading back into Summer
By Emily McIntyre, JS Psychology Team
As we head back into warmer weather, start to think about the summer holidays ahead, and smell the smoke from backburning, you might notice that some of the memories and emotions resurface from your family’s experiences last summer.
As this year quickly moved on from the bushfires and smoke (and hail), to managing COVID-19, many of us may not have had the time or space to reflect on the stress, fear and uncertainty that the bushfires triggered, as well as the days of terrible smoke in Canberra.
We have noticed that several children in the school community have begun to talk about their experiences in the bushfires once more.
Firstly, this is very common. Our brain is wired to detect any conditions that seem to be similar to prior experiences that involved danger. This is to protect us and ensure we are on the lookout to avoid repeating these experiences. Our brain is doing its job. It is very natural to begin to remember the situations and emotions that came up in Dec and Jan of last summer, and to feel a bit anxious.
Signs that your child may be revisiting fears about the bushfires
Every child will be different here and what may be noticeable is a change in their emotionality or behaviour. This could include:
- questions and stories about bushfires, disasters or death
- asking about school holidays and where you will be going
- taking longer at night to settle
- being clingy or having more troubling separating.
Supporting your child
- Even if your child is not exhibiting signs of anxiety, it can be helpful to let them know that as summer arrives, they might notice some thoughts, feelings and memories about their holiday last summer. Reassure them and explain to them why this might happen (our brain is protecting us and looking out for us).
- Talk about where you plan to go this summer. If you are revisiting an area where you experienced the fires, talk about your plan and how you will be ensuring you will be safe. Talk about what you learned from last time and how this will help now. Explain what you might see, one year on, in these communities – the trees may still be black in some areas but there will be growth, people will be rebuilding. You might want to emphasise how much you are helping this community by returning to holiday again.
- Allow children to talk again about their memories of last summer. Talking and putting their memories in order, helps children to properly process their experience and place it in the past, in their long-term memory. This means it will be less likely to trigger strong emotions in the present. Younger children may want to do drawings about their experiences.
- As the Radford team suggested immediately after the summer holidays – it can be helpful to develop a "family narrative" of your experience: the lows and the highs. The most important component of this story should be about how you managed, how you bounced back, and got through together. “Even though we were scared, and we were caught by surprise, we were brave and we were wise”.
- Reassure your child that they will be OK.
- Focus on Feelings: show your child that whatever they feel, it is OK, and it makes sense.
- Help your child to find ways to relax their bodies (particularly at night, if this is a tricky time) as this helps our brain to relax and recognize that it is safe. This could be with music, guided mindfulness apps, reading to them, or shared cuddles. If your child is getting stuck in their worry thoughts, gentle reassurance and distraction can be helpful.
The JS Psychology team, Julie Smith & Emily McIntyre, is also available if you have any questions or concerns. You can contact them via JS Reception.
- Radford Parenting Platform: https://sway.office.com/Y7TJ19vHPrb9PEq2?ref=Link&loc=play
- Raising Children Network: https://raisingchildren.net.au/
- Hey Sigmund (Parenting for Anxiety): https://www.heysigmund.com/
- Practical Coping Skills for Kids: https://copingskillsforkids.com/calming-anxiety