Experiencing a natural disaster or other emergency can cause extreme stress and anxiety in any adult but for children these events can be particularly traumatizing. Children depend on the adults around them to keep them and their environment safe. When things around them go wrong very suddenly, they look to us to make things better; this is a time when they need the guidance of adults the most. If we remain calm and know what to do and if we have prepared them in an age-appropriate manner for just such occurrences, children are much less likely to have long lasting negative effects as things get back to normal.
Children take their cue about how they should act from us; they will be quick to pick up on feelings of panic, fright, anxiety and heightened stress levels. Sensing fear from the adults around them will tell them that there really is a reason to panic, unfortunately they don’t really know what to expect and naturally their imaginations will go into high gear, making things even worse. While some sense of fear is healthy and helps us protect ourselves in times of danger, excessive panic and anxiety only fuel already difficult situations.
Talking to your children about what to do in emergencies at a time when everyone is calm and relaxed will help them remain calm if something does happen. Giving them very specific instructions on what you need them to do in case of a house fire, earthquake, flood, etc and routinely having drills to practice these skills can go a long way in how they handle any one of these or some other emergency situation. Even things like an extended power outage can be frightening for young children. It’s important to take the time to show them exactly where the flashlights are and make sure that there are ones that they can easily reach by themselves if the power does go out. Show them where the family food and water emergency supplies are stored and help them make up their own emergency backpack kit and have the children put a few personal items in their backpack as well.
Why not use a family game night once in a while to go over your house emergency rules. Have your children inspect their emergency backpack to see if they would like to change one or two of their personal items; perhaps a new toy or stuffy they recently got. Make sure the evening is relaxed and ask kids if there is anything that they are not sure of or that they might be scared about. Some families have turned this planning and drill night into their special pizza dinner night. Many households have also made fun games with prizes for the person that can find their flashlight first or the person that can find their emergency backpack and get out the fastest.
There are so many ways that we as adults can help prepare our children for unexpected emergencies. The important thing to remember is to keep the conversation going and give children the information they need without making them fearful that something could happen anytime. We want to instill age-appropriate knowledge and confidence in our children; not fear. Remember that they look to us to know how they should be acting; if we show them a calm and confident attitude, we will be giving them one of the most important skills in dealing with unexpected emergency situations.