Coping with Kids’ Concerns About the Danger of Natural Disasters

My family lives in the Austin area, where we are wrapping up the hottest summer on record and this is coupled with “extreme” drought conditions. Other than when we left the city for our summer vacation, we cannot recall the last time it rained. Just over a week ago, we had record-breaking heat, with the hottest day ever recorded in the city’s history, and we took that day as the equivalent of a “bad weather day” (just with blue skies and sunshine) to hole up in the house and watch movies just as you would a snow day. It was just too miserable to go outside, and we are outdoorsy people.

This past weekend, wildfires in our region seemed to be developing throughout the city. It was actually hard to keep up with the location of all of the reports of different fires in different locations throughout the area. We had them burning just down the road by my parents’ house, half of my daughter’s sports team were evacuated from their homes, friends lost their homes in another fire, and others we know had friends or parents who lost their homes all in different fires within just a few days’ time. Clearly this was hitting home in a major way as we know so many who have been affected. Yet more than that was the issue that the danger was (and still is) very present. Our drought continues. The burn ban and water restrictions continue, and even as late as last evening, new fires were cropping up around the city.

Of course, we live at the southern end of “tornado alley” and are close enough to the gulf to feel the effects of tropical storms and hurricanes, too. We are no strangers to feeling the stress of the dangers or potential dangers of natural disasters. Yet the anxiety of this situation is taking its toll on the kids. They hear the news reports, catch whispers of conversations from adults, and hear (often false) reports from their friends. So what can you do to help your kids cope with the stress of these concerns, from wildfires or any other natural disaster dangers? Here are some tips:

Talk About the Issue:
If your kids are old enough to talk about it, by all means do so. Kids can make up some pretty bad scenarios in their heads if they aren’t armed with the right information. These scenarios can take on life of their own and really eat away at kids.

Talk About Preparations and “What If” Scenarios:
While you don’t want to go into a “worst case” scenario and cause them even more stress, let them know what would happen if the “what if” situation did happen. For instance, I explained to my oldest child what “reverse 911″ is and that everyone should have time to leave their homes. I also explained a little bit about how insurance works, as she is old enough to understand that things would be destroyed, and that we would stay with a grandparent if we needed to. Simply telling her that we had a plan and life would go on helped her to find some peace of mind.

Talk About Rumors:
The fires are certainly the topic of the day with adults, and this is the case at the schools, too. When the kids get home, talk about what they are hearing, addressing each rumor one by one. (One of my daughter’s friends told her that the fires were burning all around us and were closing in. They would be at our house by Friday, and so the kids would have to evacuate the school.) Don’t let false truths sit in your child’s head and cause unnecessary concern.

Temper Your Concerns:
Whether it’s wildfires or everyone rushing to the store to prepare for a tropical storm or hurricane, kids do pick up on adult concerns, and they do overhear conversations they aren’t necessarily a part of. Make sure any conversations you have on these topics are kept away from kids’ ears. You may be worried, but the kids don’t have to get unnecessarily concerned, too.

There certainly are some natural disasters that you just don’t see coming and have no warning to prepare for or worry about. Then there are natural disasters that you can see coming many days out. Either way, you don’t want your children to be stressed out and anxious, so follow some of these tips to help their fears and concerns about the dangers subside.

Here are some other articles from this author:

Are competitive sports right for your kids?

Is your toddler afraid of the water? Swimming tips that work

The argument for kids playing multiple sports: Considerations beyond your schedule

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