Learn how to reduce and manage your child’s fears before, during and after a disaster or emergency.Learn how to reduce and manage your child’s fears before, during and after a disaster or emergency.
Disasters often strike quickly and without warning. They are frightening for adults, and can be traumatic for children. Your family may have to leave home and change your daily routine. Be prepared to give your children guidance that will help reduce their fears.
Talking to Your Children About Disasters
How to Talk About Disasters in Advance
Prepare Yourself with Knowledge
Find out which disasters are most common where you live, then visit our emergency resource library for specific tips on what to do and discuss. For example, if you live in an earthquake-prone area, your child should be taught to DROP, COVER and HOLD ON.
Next, check at your children’s schools, day care, or other locations where they regularly spend time. Find out what their emergency plans are so that you can reinforce them at home.
Share What You’ve Learned
Talk about emergency preparation with your family so that everyone knows what to do. Discussing ahead of time helps reduce fear, particularly for younger children.
Involve your entire family in preparation activities, such as assembling a survival kit. Children can feel reassured knowing there’s a plan in place.
How to Guide Your Children During a Disaster
Your Child’s Response May Be Shaped By Yours
Feelings of fear are healthy and natural, but in a disaster, your children will be looking to you for clues on how to act:
If you show alarm, your child may become more scared, seeing your fear as proof that the danger is real.
If you seem overcome with loss, your child may feel their losses more strongly.
If you are able to demonstrate that you feel calm and in control, your child may feel more confident and better able to cope.
A Child Who Feels Afraid Is Afraid
Your child may experience the emergency as being bigger than it actually is. Children's fears can be increased by their imagination, and you should take these feelings seriously. Your words and actions can provide reassurance; be sure to present a realistic picture that is both honest and manageable.
How to Help Your Child Recover After a Disaster
What to Expect
Children depend on familiar routines: wake up, eat breakfast, go to school, play with friends. When an emergency interrupts this routine, they may become anxious, confused, or frightened. These feelings may be expressed in a variety of ways: from clinginess to withdrawal; increased shyness to aggressiveness. Your child may return to previously outgrown behaviors such as thumb-sucking or carrying a cuddly toy.
What to Do
When the danger has passed, concentrate on your child's emotional needs by asking what's on his or her mind. Having children participate in your family's recovery activities will help them feel that life will soon return to "normal."
During their recovery, prevent young children from viewing television news reports of the event. The images can be very upsetting, particularly if the child is too young to realize they are watching repeated footage and not a new emergency.
A Proactive Approach: Youth Preparedness Activities
The Red Cross offers youth preparedness courses and programs to help children develop the skills and confidence they may need in an emergency. We work closely with schools, scout groups, and youth-serving organizations to raise awareness of disaster risk and build resilience among young people. Our age-appropriate preparedness materials educate youth with engaging activities and easy action steps.
Make Family Preparedness Easy with One-Minute Drills
In an effort to help you and your family prepare now, here are some one-minute drills that are short on time, but long on impact.
Get a Kit
Visit the American Red Cross Store and Purchase the Deluxe Emergency Preparedness Kit. That's it. You're done with this step. Easy. Right?
Discuss Kit Rules
Once you get the kit, make sure that everyone knows where it is and that the items in it are to be used for emergencies only. You don't want someone taking the water packet from the kit just because they don't want to make a trip to the kitchen.
Personalize Your Kit
Have each family member pick their favorite canned foods and personal items and add them to the kit.
Making an Evacuation Plan
This is much easier and less time consuming than it seems. Pull out a map and highlighter and determine two or three destinations and the routes to get there.
It is important to know what natural disasters can affect your area and what to do in the event of one striking. Read through the appropriate Disaster and Emergency Guides. Watch the weather and stay on top of the news if a hurricane or other severe weather is predicted to come your way. If local authorities are telling you to evacuate, then EVACUATE! If you followed the drills above, then you already have an evacuation plan.
More Steps You Can Take
Download our safety apps and sign up for a training course to stay prepared
The Red Cross offers several training programs for youth, including Swimming & Water Safety, Lifeguarding, Babysitting, and more.