Disaster Preparation: Helping Kids Cope and Prepare01-14-16
An ounce of prevention…
The year 2015 was a tumultuous year in terms of natural and unnatural events nationally and internationally. This year hopefully will be much better but in all likelihood, storms, fires, and other natural disasters will come. Mass shootings, terrorists’ attacks, and a very negative presidential campaign with the attendant media coverage of high profile events around the country are almost a certainty. Children are often impacted the greatest by these events and often thought about how they are affected the least. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that children are able to cope more effectively with disasters and media coverage if they feel they understand what is happening and what they can do to help protect themselves, family, and friends. Some ways that parents and guardians can help children cope is to provide basic information to help them understand, without providing unnecessary detail that may only alarm them. For very young children, providing concrete examples and explanations of what happened and how it will affect them can help (e.g. a tree fell on electrical wires and that is why the lights do not work, but repair crews are working to restore the lights). Older children will likely want and benefit from additional information about the disaster and recovery efforts.
No matter what age, start by asking children what they already know and what questions they have and use that as a guide for the conversation. Limit media coverage of the disaster and if children are going to watch media coverage, consider taping it to allow adults to preview the coverage first and then watch along with them to answer questions and help them process the information. Also, be sure to ask children what questions or concerns they have. Often they have fears based on limited information or because they misunderstood what they were told. Reassure children when able to do so, but if their fears are realistic, don’t give false reassurance. Instead, help them learn how to cope with these feelings.