Preparing for emergencies shouldn't fall on your shoulders alone. Young children and teens alike need to be part of the process — for their own safety and sense of empowerment.
- Work together to build an emergency kit.
- Sit down as a family to talk about your communications plan.
- Role-play what you would do during a disaster.
- Hold fire drills in your house.
Disasters can leave children and teens feeling frightened, confused and insecure. And kids' responses can be quite varied. It's important to not only recognize these reactions, but also help children cope with their emotions.
You are their biggest influence. When you can manage your own feelings, you can make disasters less traumatic for your kids.
- Encourage dialogue. Listen to your kids. Ask them about their feelings. Validate their concerns.
- Answer questions. Give just the amount of information you feel your child needs. Clarify misunderstandings about risk and danger.
- Be calm, be reassuring.Discuss concrete plans for safety. Have children and teens contribute to the family's recovery plan.
- Shut off the TV! News coverage of disasters creates confusion and anxiety. Repeated images may lead younger kids to believe the event is recurring. If your children do watch TV or use the Internet, be with them to talk and answer questions.
- Find support. Whether you turn to friends, family, community organizations or faith-based institutions, building support networks can help you cope, which will in turn help your children cope.
For many kids, reactions to disasters are brief. But some children can be at risk for more enduring psychological distress. Three risk factors for this longer-lasting response are:
- Direct exposure to the disaster such as being evacuated, observing injuries of others, or experiencing injury
- Loss/grief relating to the death or serious injury of family or friends
- On-going stress from secondary effects, such as temporary housing, loss of social networks, loss of personal property, or parent's unemployment