BLAIR, Neb. — Amarillo Mullen misses her old bedroom with its tall pink walls covered in Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift posters.
Her new, much smaller bedroom — inside her family's fifth-wheel camper — tells little about the 10-year-old's personality, her mom, Sandy Mullen, says.
The transition into the camper, where the family has lived for several weeks after evacuating their flooded Blair home, has been especially tough on the youngest Mullen.
She has been moodier, ignoring any flood discussion and focusing on her old house, Sandy Mullen said.
"The best part about it was the space," Amarillo Mullen said.
Matt Demorest of Pacific Junction, Iowa, along with his wife, four kids and a nephew, also moved into a fifth-wheel camper after evacuating their home about six weeks ago when floodwaters approached. Since the move, Demorest has noticed that his children have become extremely restless.
"They're always at each other's throats and always picking on each other," he said. "I guess you could call it cabin fever."
His son, 13-year-old Jacob Demorest, said he tries to spend more time with his friends in Glenwood and less time in the cramped camper.
"Where we spend most of our time when we're here is in the living room. We'll just start talking about stuff or watching movies," he said. "It's just a really big downside."
The kids' feelings aren't uncommon for young disaster victims.
Local experts say young flood victims can experience stress and anxiety in a number of ways during and after a disaster.
"Children may become upset or cry easily, get angry or act out, become restless or have difficulty paying attention," said Lesia Oesterreich, family life specialist at Iowa State University Extension.
"Some children may be quiet and withdrawn, while others can't stop talking about the experience," she said.
A child's age, along with personality, temperament and other life experiences, can tell a lot about how the child might react to a disaster such as flooding.
During a flood, children between the ages 2 and 6 may play out aspects of their surroundings. They might "start running their action figures through the bathtub and act like they're going through a flood," said Robin Zagurski, a clinical social worker at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Kids between 6 and 11 years old might feel more responsible for a disaster and pretend to be rescue workers, such as fire personnel and law enforcement, she said. Older children, ages 11 to 18, more likely will exhibit more complex emotions similar to those of adults.
If kids of any age see their parents stressed or fighting, they might start acting similarly, said Sandra McKinnon, a family life program specialist with Iowa State University Extension.
"Children look to their parents for guidance, and if their parents or other adults are feeling overwhelmed, it might happen that kids feel they're to blame," she said.
Parents should keep an eye on their children's behavior and watch for abrupt changes that last for long periods of time.
If a child's behavior changes and the change lasts more than a couple of days and interferes with the child's normal functioning, the parents should contact a pediatrician, experts said.
Changes in a child's behavior is sometimes harder to spot during the summer than during the school year, Zagurski said, because children's lives are less structured in the summer.
Changes in behavior can be as simple as children saying they're scared or worried, Zagurski said, but children between the ages of 11 and 18 should be monitored closest because they are more likely to be depressed or have suicidal thoughts.
Experts recommended that parents keep children's routines as normal as possible and leave kids out of adult conversations relating to flooding.
Parents should still keep kids informed by explaining how they feel and suggesting a positive response, Oesterreich said.
"Say something like, 'Mommy feels very sad about leaving home. That is why I am crying. Come and give Mommy a hug.' Giving children something to do makes them feel a part of the family response to the adversity."
Parents also could remind their children that many people are working to keep them safe.
Brief conversations throughout the day can broaden a child's understanding of the situation, Oesterreich said.
Hugging or showing affection toward children also can assure them they have support and are not alone.
"It helps them realize you're here for them," McKinnon said. "Things may be chaotic, but that relieves stress."
For families who are waiting to evacuate, Zagurski recommended putting together a go-to kit packed with children's favorite things. In an emergency evacuation, parents or kids can grab the kit and not worry that they have forgotten important items, such as a favorite stuffed animal, book or night light.
Amarillo Mullen said her handheld Nintendo game was one of her many favorite items that was packed away with the majority of the family's things weeks ago when they started to move out of their home. She hasn't been able to find it since.
The worst part, Amarillo said, is accepting that her family won't be able to move back into the house, which has floodwaters nearly reaching the ceiling of the basement.
"We don't have a house anymore," she said.
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