With earthquakes, tornadoes, and train derailments making headlines recently, it’s easy to feel secondary stress from watching the news. As a parent, it’s important to remember that your reactions to these disasters can impact the way your child views the world around them. Remain calm and give yourself time to process any impending or perceived danger. This will give you the opportunity and headspace to help prepare and care for your family—physically and emotionally—in the case of an emergency.
There are many things you can do to help your child cope with emergency preparedness. Reassure your child of their safety and let your child know what you are doing to protect them. This could mean helping them understand your family’s safety plan and practicing ahead of time or simply speaking to your child in a calm, caring manner and staying close to your child for comfort.
You can be supportive when you are not present as well. Find out when your child’s school or daycare have scheduled their drills for fire, tornado, and active intruder safety so you can let your child know in advance and help your child mentally prepare. Practice ahead of time at home and share the importance of listening and following their teacher’s or caregiver’s instructions. While discussing the drills, ask your child if they have any worries or concerns. You are not only showing care and compassion, but also validating their emotions. This lessens their fear and keeps communication open between you and your child. Over time, your support will help decrease sensitivity and build healthy coping, social, and communication skills in your child.
Sometimes even our best efforts cannot keep stress from seeping into a situation. A negative experience in a previous emergency or high-stress event may contribute to more anxious reactions to subsequent emergencies or disasters. One of the best ways to know if your child is feeling stressed before or after an event is to watch for behaviors that are not typical for your child. Signs of anxiety could include pacing, rocking, misbehaving, moodiness, or noticeable changes in sleeping or eating habits (more or less than usual). Make sure to talk to your child’s teacher, caregiver, or school counselor to create a plan that will help your child through the crisis.
Children can suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after a scary emergency or accident. If you feel your child has been seriously impacted and is exhibiting signs of emotional dysregulation or mood swings, spacing out (dissociation), or significant changes in sleep or appetite, seek immediate help to prevent more severe symptoms.
Time To Pack!
There are many things you can do to help your child cope with emergency preparedness. Reassure your child of their safety and let your child know what you are doing to protect them. Giving your child a role in the emergency bag preparation can provide a sense of control. While preparing your family’s bag, make sure to let your child know what each item is and how to use it. Here are some essentials to include in your bag:
- non-perishable food (such as granola bars)
- spare clothing and shoes
- personal hygiene items (ex. wet wipes and toothbrush/toothpaste)
- first-aid kit
- flashlight, radio, and if needed, spare batteries and a portable cell phone charger
- 3–7-day supply of any required life-saving medications (ex. Epi-pen, insulin).
- a notebook and pen, as well as paper maps
- paper money and coins
Your child may also want to carry their own bag with a comfort item (stuffed animal or blanket) and activity book with crayons.
Also, make sure your family has developed a specific plan in case your child gets separated from you. Practice how it will be used to boost your child’s confidence if the need to act arises.
Remember, taking care of yourself during an emergency event will help prevent or reduce stress in your loved ones. Reach out to family and friends and check on your child to make sure the communication is open. Stay calm and tune in to your child’s behavior and needs. By meeting your child’s needs and providing reassurance, safety, and comfort, your child can move through the experience with less stress or trauma and a healthier emotional response.
Download What to Pack in Your Family Emergency Bag
This blog article was contributed by Renee Sier, Marketing & Communications Coordinator, and Coletta Kennedy, Acting Therapist, at Nexus-Onarga Family Healing.
Nexus Family Healing is a national nonprofit mental health organization that restores hope for thousands of children and families who come to us for outpatient/community mental health services, foster care and adoption, and residential treatment. For over 50 years, our network of agencies has used innovative, personalized approaches to heal trauma, break cycles of harm, and reshape futures. We believe every child is worth it — and every family matters. Learn more at nexusfamilyhealing.org.