Children Cope with Disaster
Floods...Hurricanes... Hazardous Materials Spills
Disaster may strike quickly and without warning. These events can be frightening
for adults, but they are traumatic for children if they don't know what
During a disaster, your family may have to leave your home and daily routine.
Children may become anxious, confused or frightened. As an adult, you'll
need to cope with the disaster in a way that will help children avoid
developing a permanent sense of loss. It is important to give children
guidance that will help them reduce their fears.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the American Red
Cross have prepared this brochure to help you help your children cope.
Ultimately, you should decide what's best for your children, but consider
using these suggestions as guidelines.
Children and Their Response to Disaster
Children depend on daily routines: They wake up, eat breakfast, go to
school, play with friends. When emergencies or disasters interrupt this
routine, children may become anxious.
In a disaster, they'll look to you and other adults for help. How you
react to an emergency gives them clues on how to act. If you react with
alarm, a child may become more scared. They see our fear as proof that
the danger is real. If you seem overcome with a sense of loss, a child
may feel their losses more strongly.
Children's fears also may stem from their imagination, and you should
take these feelings seriously. A child who feels afraid is afraid. Your
words and actions can provide reassurance. When talking with your child,
be sure to present a realistic picture that is both honest and manageable.
Feeling or fear are healthy and natural for adults and children. But as
an adult, you need to keep control of the situation. When you're sure
that danger has passed, concentrate on your child's emotional needs by
asking the child what's uppermost in his or her mind. Having children
participate in the family's recovery activities will help them feel that
their life will return to "normal." Your response during this
time may have a lasting impact.
Be aware that after a disaster, children are most afraid that--
event will happen again.
will be injured or killed.
will be separated from the family.
will be left alone.
to Parents: Prepare for Disaster
You can create a Family Disaster Plan by taking four simple steps. First,
learn what hazards exist in your community and how to prepare for each.
Then meet with your family to discuss what you would do, as a group, in
each situation. Next, take steps to prepare your family for disaster such
as: posting emergency phone numbers, selecting an out-of-state family
contact, assembling disaster supplies kits for each member of your household
and installing smoke detectors on each level of your home. Finally, practice
your Family Disaster Plan so that everyone will remember what to do when
a disaster does occur.
THE DISASTER: TIME FOR RECOVERY
and practice a Family Disaster Plan. Contact your local emergency
management or civil defense office, or your local Red Cross chapter
for materials that describe how your family can create a disaster
plan. Everyone in the household, including children, should play a
part in the family's response and recovery efforts.
your child how to recognize danger signals. Make sure your child knows
what smoke detectors, fire alarms and local community warning systems
(horns, sirens) sound like.
how to call for help. Teach your child how and when to call for help.
Check the telephone directory for local emergency phone numbers and
post these phone numbers by all telephones. If you live in a 9-1-1-service
area, tell your child to call 9-1-1.
your child memorize important family information. Children should
memorize their family name, address and phone number. They should
also know where to meet in case of an emergency. Some children may
not be old enough to memorize the information. They could carry a
small index card that lists emergency information to give to an adult
after the disaster, try to reduce your child's fear and anxiety.
You can help
children cope by understanding what causes their anxieties and fears.
Reassure them with firmness and love. Your children will realize that
life will eventually return to normal. If a child does not respond to
the above suggestions, seek help from a mental health specialist or a
member of the clergy.
the family together. While you look for housing and assistance, you
may want to leave your children with relatives or friends. Instead,
keep the family together as much as possible and make children a part
of what you are doing to get the family back on its feet. Children
get anxious, and they'll worry that their parents won't return.
and firmly explain the situation. As best as you can, tell children
what you know about the disaster. Explain what will happen next. For
example, say, "Tonight, we will all stay together in the shelter."
Get down to the child's eye level and talk to them.
children to talk. Let children talk about the disaster and ask questions
as much as they want. Encourage children to describe what they're
feeling. Listen to what they say. If possible, include the entire
family in the discussion.
children in recovery activities. Give children chores that are their
responsibility. This will help children feel they are part of the
recovery. Having a task will help them understand that everything
will be all right.
Emergency Management Agency's Community and Family Preparedness Program
developed this brochure in cooperation with the American Red Cross' Community
Disaster Education Program. Both are national efforts to help people prepare
for disasters of all types. For more information on how to prepare for
and respond to disaster, contact your local or State office of emergency
management and your local Red Cross chapter. Ask for "Your Family
Disaster Plan." Or, write to: FEMA, P.O. Box 70274, Washington,
D.C. 20024. FEMA L-196, ARC 4499