Wednesday, July 13, 2011

How can I prepare my child for disasters without scaring her?

On September 11, 2011 I was caring for 3 boys when the disaster struck. Mom and Dad were out of the country so I was their sole caregiver for several days. Dealing with my own emotions as well as their questions and concerns was not easy. However, going through this experience taught me a few things about how to discuss tragedy with children and how to prepare them for disaster without terrifying them.

It is not hard to find news of disasters in this county and across the globe. These tragic events present an ideal opportunity to talk to your child about being prepared for disasters. One big mistake you can make as a parent or caregiver is to hide the news from your child. She has a strong ability to sense the emotions and moods of the people close to her. Your child is likely to overhear things you say or are listening to without you ever knowing it. She will then know something is wrong, but without the whole story and a calm explanation of the events her imagination may run wild.

The best thing you can do to help your child deal with her emotions after a tragedy is to use simple words to explain the events. “There was a really bad storm in Missouri called a tornado. Some people’s houses got knocked down. Some people even got hurt. But the doctors are working hard to make them all better. It can be scary to hear about other people that got hurt.”

Using these types of sentences explain enough to your child without giving the scary details that might have lasting effects. Don’t go into more detail than your child needs to know but don’t avoid the conversation or try to distract her. Knowing your child’s age and level of understanding will help you find the right words.

Your child probably tends to immediately relate everything she hears to how it will affect her. For this reason your child might be worried that a big storm will knock down her house. Try hard not to discredit this thought because the truth is she is right, disasters happen everywhere. Instead use this as an opportunity to work with your child and put together a plan for if the worst does happen. Doing this can really help her feel powerful and prepared. It also means that she is more likely to actually remember what the plan of action is and use it if the worst does happen.

You can put together a plan for many events from tornadoes to fires and other disasters. With your child, draw and color a map of your house. Have her find at least two “safe” ways to get out of the house from every room. As a family pick a “home base” to meet once out safely. While looking at the map, find the safe places in the house to go if there is a tornado and put together an emergency box for these situations with your child.

Don’t forget to utilize community “safety” events. Many police and fire stations offer fun days where your child can learn about what to do in emergency situations. The key is to go with her and discuss what was learned after. Working with your child to prepare your family will give her added sense of control even in the unknown. And it will give you the peace of mind that your child knows where to go and what to do in an emergency.

This article originally aired on Regarding Nannies in June of 2011

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