Archive for Thursday, May 3, 2007

Disaster planning essential for children

May 3, 2007

How many of us believe disasters and children go together? I have six children, 11 grandchildren and one great-grandchild, and my children who are now parents themselves understand that children and disasters are synonymous. But what about the disasters that we cannot predict, the ones that affect us all on a personal basis? How do we help our children through those times?

As I have written before, disasters are not commonplace, and we usually are not prepared for them. It is because disasters may strike quickly and without warning that we need to be especially well prepared. We need to have a plan. We need to practice that plan and we need to be flexible if things don't go quite as we had expected.

During a disaster, the family may have to leave the home. Daily routines will be disrupted. Children may become anxious, confused or frightened. It is important to give children guidance that will help them reduce their fears.

I am not saying that you have to put your own feelings on the back burner -- you may be anxious, confused and frightened as well. That is OK, but please understand that your child needs to see you as a source of comfort and knowledge. How you accomplish that is up to you, but I hope to give you a few pointers that you can put into your Mental Disaster Tool Kit.

Even if your children are teenagers, they depend on daily routines. They wake up -- usually with a little cajoling from you -- eat breakfast, go to school and play with friends. When emergencies or disasters interrupt this routine, they may become anxious.

It is in times of confusion, anxiety and concern that children will look to an authority figure for help. How you react to an emergency gives them some clues on how they are supposed to act.

It is when we are faced with the responsibility for another person in times of crisis that our real selves come out. How do you react to crisis? Might you need to revise your reaction? Might you need to ask someone else how they see you when you are under stress?

Children's fears also may stem from their imagination, and you need to take these fears seriously. A child who feels afraid -- is afraid, even if you can't understand that fear or to you that fear seems silly. It is real to that child.

Please remember that when you talk to your child you need to present a realistic picture that is both honest and manageable.

Feelings of fear are healthy and natural for adults and children, but as an adult, you need to be able to keep control of the situation. As the danger passes, try to concentrate on your child's emotional needs. Try to have the child participate in helping the entire family recover. Your response during this time may have a lasting impact on both the family and that individual child.

Advice to parents

  • Please prepare a "Family Disaster Plan" and practice it so each member of the family remembers what to do during a disaster. Our office will help you with this if you need. Everyone, from grandpa and grandma to the children needs to know their part in your plan and what to do should a crisis occur.
  • Teach your child how to recognize danger signals. What do they do when the smoke alarm goes off, when the outdoor sirens sound, when the ground shakes?
  • Teach your child how to call 911. What are the questions the 911 operator will ask? How do you answer those questions?
  • Help your child memorize important information. Where do you meet when something happens? Who is their out of area contact?

After the disaster

  • Try to keep the family together, try not to leave the children with another friend or family member. They need to be a part of the rebuilding process. Give your children chores to do. Have them write down what needs to do done. Have them help younger children. Having a task to do will help them understand that life will look up again and that there will be a tomorrow.
  • Reassure your children with firmness and love. Your children will realize that things will eventually return to a normal state.

-- Clarin Blessing is the assistant director of training and public education with the Johnson County Emergency Management and Homeland Security. Blessing can be reached at (913) 715-1002 or by e-mail, cblessing@jocogov.org.

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