Hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, the death of a loved one, a school shooting, or house fires; we can’t always protect our children from the disasters that happen in the world. Unfortunately, many children will experience an emergency that will cause them distress. When an emergency happens, your child will likely be full of different emotions. He or she may feel scared, confused, angry, or sad. In times like this it’s important that as a parent, you know how to communicate support and provide comfort to your child.
Safety comes first. Stay up to date on what is happening. Follow the news sources and when possible, be prepared before the event. Listen to what officials are instructing and follow their recommendations. Be sure you are communicating to your child that you will stay together and keep them safe. If age appropriate, talk about what you are doing to prepare for the event and keep them safe. Let them be involved in these activities. This will provide a sense of control during a time of uncertainty. When the event is over, let your child know that they are safe. The calmer you are, the calmer they will feel. Communicate to them that you are together and safe.
Let your child know that you are there for them. Make yourself available with limited distractions from television and cell phones. Hug them, let them cry, and do your best to soothe them. Your child may feel clingy or want to be held more than normal. In this time, it’s important to give them the extra comfort that they need. You could probably use the extra snuggles yourself.
If the emergency is all over the news, limit your child’s exposure as much as possible while trying to stay informed. Be sure that adult conversations are kept to a minimum since that may worsen your child’s fears and confusion. Try to stick to your routine as best as you can and surround them with positive activities. Spend family time together doing things that are fun to start making new memories.
Watch for Signs of Stress
After everything has calmed down and life is getting back to normal, try to watch and listen to what your child is communicating to you. Do you notice any signs of stress still impacting your child? Are they sucking their thumb more often, regressing, or throwing more tantrums? If so, be sure to address it in an age appropriate, understanding way.
Allow them opportunities to communicate their thoughts and emotions. Sometimes a drawing from a child can communicate a lot. This is a healthy way to deal with emotions and can be a good conversation starter. Try asking your child questions to determine how they are feeling and do your best to track any changes from day to day. Your child may even be able to tell you what would make them feel safer or more comfortable, if you ask them!
Be Ready for Questions
Your child will likely have questions. Their minds are probably going crazy trying to understand everything, and it’s up to you to interpret it for them. It will be hard for them to wrap their brains around what happened and why it happened. Be ready to answer their questions so he or she feels calmer and reassured.
Be clear, but don’t go into much detail. This may cause them more confusion or fear. In the image to the right you will see examples of how to answer some of these tough questions.
- Check out this Family Guide to Supporting Each Other After an Emergency for tips, responses, talking points, and activities.
- Read this article for more on talking to children after a traumatic event
- A great book list to help young children navigate complex feelings and experiences