Day 6

How the wildfires will affect Fort McMurray's children

In the wake of the wildfire that hit Slave Lake, Alberta five years ago, children living there began demonstrating fears and anxieties associated with what had happened. University of Lethbridge researcher Judith Kulig interviewed those kids and their parents, and tells Brent many of them hid their feelings to not burden their parents. She explains her research and what Fort McMurray families could learn from it.
Evacuees from the Fort McMurray wildfires, Ellyse Naughton (L), holds her toy robotic dog as her mother Erin looks at her phone as they camp at the Christina Lake campground in Conklin, Alberta, Canada, May 5, 2016. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

University of Lethbridge researcher and nursing professor Judith Kulig says children who've fled the wildfires in Fort McMurray are likely to hide their fears from their parents because they worry they will burden them during an already difficult time.

"The children understand that the parents have a lot of issues to deal with and for some of them they actually hid some of their anxiety and fear and didn't want to express that," Kulig tells host Brent Bambury.  

"They know that their parents have a lot on their mind and they don't want to add to that, " she adds.

After the wildfires in Slave Lake, Alberta in 2011, Kulig travelled to the community to interview children and their parents about the how they were coping in the aftermath.

She says how children react to a traumatic event such as losing their home to a fire, depends in part on what their parents do.

"Parents that are more anxious, that are not dealing as well with the evacuation and are more nervous, kids will pick up on that and they will in turn be more nervous," says Kulig.

Kulig interviewed 19 families and their children in Slave Lake, six months after the 2011 wildfires and again, one year later.

She says it wasn't only children who lost their homes who were having trouble. Kulig says those who returned to their homes, experienced something similar to survivor's guilt.

"Some of the children that had greater stress levels and more symptoms of PTSD actually didn't lose their home," says Kulig.

When families return to Fort McMurray,  Kulig says getting kids back into extracurricular activities will be key in helping them cope. She says kids often thrive when they have familiar routines.

"Having kids back in clubs and activities is a normal way for them to address the anxiety that they're going through."