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Extension Agent: Help children cope with disasters

By Erika Bochat
July 2, 2013 at 2:02 a.m.

As disasters threaten, whether they be natural or accidental, parents are urged to include the most vulnerable members of their families - their children - in family plans for disasters.

Parents often think that children will just get frightened if you talk to them about disasters. Mental health experts for the American Red Cross say that, "Children understand more than we might think, and including children in disaster planning will help them survive." Children can better cope with the trauma of a disaster and the losses they may suffer if they have talked about the possibility.

We can't tell children that bad things won't happen, and we can't promise to always keep them safe. The best thing to do for children is to teach them how to prepare and react if they are faced with an unexpected event.

In a disaster situation, children are most afraid that someone will be injured or killed, that they will be separated from the family or that they will be left alone. By helping children understand disasters, they are empowered, reassured and comforted.

Disaster preparedness involves the entire family. Parents should inform themselves of preparedness and response issues, and they should share this information with their children. It is important to talk about safety and to include them in planning for a disaster.

Child care providers need to be prepared for emergencies and disasters, as they can occur quickly and without warning and can threaten the health and safety of the children and staff.

Fortunately, there are resources available to assist child care administrators and providers in their preparedness planning.

Child care emergency preparedness guides can be accessed from several Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service websites: Disaster Education Network (EDEN) at and Extension's Family Consumer Sciences website under Child Care at

Prepare for unexpected events by taking three simple steps:

  1. Get informed: Learn what hazards exist in your community and how to get information from emergency management personnel.

  2. Get prepared: Meet with the family to discuss what you should do in each situation, post emergency phone numbers, select an out-of-state family contact, assemble disaster supply kits for each member of your family, plan how to escape from each room in your home as well as how to escape from your neighborhood. Practice your plan.

  3. Get involved: Volunteer to assist with relief efforts in your community.

Everyone in the household, including children, should play a part in the family's preparedness efforts, as well as your response and recovery efforts.

Make a game of putting together a disaster supplies kit. Include small games or books and comfort items, such as a blanket or stuffed animal, in the kit. Teach your child how to recognize danger signals. Make sure your child knows what smoke detectors, fire alarms and community warning systems sound like. Teach your child how and when to call for help.

Post emergency numbers by the telephones, and have a plan of action for what your child should do if telephones are out of service. Help children memorize your family name, address and phone number.

Judith A. Myers-Walls of Purdue University gives these tips:

Assume that the children know about the disaster. Children know more than you think. They are often exposed to the events as soon as they are able to watch television and interact with others.

Reassure them. Be available and askable. Let your children know that it is OK to talk about unpleasant events.

Say how you feel. Sharing your feelings can help children know that others also are upset by the events.

Recognize their fears. Support your children's concern for people they do not know. Children often are afraid not only for themselves, their family and their friends, but also for people they do not know.

Be aware of other emotions. Look for feelings beyond fear. Let your children express all of their emotions.

Help them take action. Children may want to take action. The action can be very simple, such as writing a letter or getting involved with a disaster preparedness organization.

Child care emergency preparedness guides can be accessed from several Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service websites: Disaster Education Network (EDEN) at and Extension's Family Consumer Sciences website under Child Care at

Source: Dr. Rick Peterson, Assistant Professor and Parenting Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. July 2006.

Erika Bochat is a Victoria County extension agent - Family and Consumer Sciences.



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