Keeping kids safe and calm in a disaster
This summer as bushfires continue to sweep the country, children are particularly vulnerable. Children caught up in the disaster may be confused and frightened as the crisis forces power outages or evacuation. The trauma of these extreme events leaves a mark long after the natural disaster has passed. Supporting children through these difficult events can help them feel comforted and protected, and build their resilience. Here are our top tips for keeping kids safe and calm during a disaster.
Prepare your emergency plan
Discuss it with your children and practice it consistently. Encourage children to take an active role in your disaster preparation plans by letting them help with stockpiling non-perishable food and water.
Stay calm and reassuring
Children can easily pick up on the moods of adults around them. Modelling calm behaviour, comforting them through hugs and managing their fears by practicing calm breathing can help them feel safe. Talk about all the people who are there to help – like family and friends, the local community, and emergency services personnel.
Understand children may express their fear in different ways
Some children may react to trauma by becoming quiet and withdrawn, others will act out or become hyper-alert. Children may also regress in their behavior by wetting the bed or thumb-sucking.
Limit media exposure
News coverage which will focus on deaths and losses suffered during the disaster may upset and frighten children. While you can, restrict their consumption of media reports of the disaster. If children do come across images or footage, help them put the disaster in context. Talk to them in age appropriate ways about what is happening and how you will keep them safe.
Like grandparents or teachers in your emergency planning. When children are separated from parents during an emergency, schools or caregivers should be ready to enact appropriate emergency plans.
Create an open and supportive environment
That allows children to express their feelings and take the time to listen. Answer their questions honestly and give repeated reassurances to their feelings. If they’re not ready to talk, encourage creative expression through play, writing or drawing.
Some children may need extra support
Children who are non-verbal, have a disability or have experienced trauma or losses in the past are particularly vulnerable, as they may not be able to express their emotions to caregivers. These children may need extra support and attention.
From organisations like Save the Children. In an evacuation or recovery centre, Save the Children may have a Child Friendly Space set up. This space allows children to play safely and process what they’ve been through while parents or caregivers begin the process of recovery.
Let them help
During or after the disaster has passed to give children back a sense of control. For example, older children might want to assist in the clear-up of the house after a flood or donate some of their clothes or toys to other children who have been directly affected.
Set an example for your child
By managing your stress and returning to your normal routine and encouraging your child to do the same. Loss of structure and routine such as schools being closed can be particularly challenging for children. Where possible, during the disaster, maintain regular times for meals and family activities.