Intense circumstances create high amounts of stress, not only for adults, but children also. Whether it is a fire, flood or earthquake, children need to know what to do and how to do it in order to minimize stress and anxiety. Have you heard stories on the news about a child who saves a family by staying calm, calling 911, and following directions? Being prepared to help in an emergency saves lives. What makes it possible for a child in a high stress situation to be ready to help?
Establish and Practice Home Emergency Plans. Everyone in the family needs to be aware of potential disasters and what to do if they occur. Start family emergency planning with a brainstorming session. (Depending on the age of your children you may need to explain that brainstorming is sharing whatever comes to mind. No idea is bad and no one should be laughed at for their contributions.) After brainstorming pull out the most effective ideas and make a family written plan and post it in a public place. Put plans into action by rehearsing drills. After each trial, evaluate performance to make the plan run more smoothly. Planning in such a way allows children to maintain control of their responses and actions, even when emergencies are out of their control. Planning increases their ability to respond calmly in an emergency.
Enroll Youth in Programs. Community youth programs teach important life skills. These programs prepare children by enlarging upon the lessons from home and school. Organizations such as The American Red Cross, Boy Scouts of America, Girls Scouts of U.S.A, and R.A.D. Kids promote emergency preparedness and skills, and often assist families by offering good exercises to do at home.
First Aid Classes. Teach, review, and practice basic first aid with children. Talk about more complicated first aid procedures, even if they are not physically capable of doing them. Although children may not be able to perform procedures such as CPR, clearing a person’s airway, or giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, it is beneficial for them to know what it is in case they ever witness it. Traumatic events cause more fear and tension if they are completely new or unfamiliar.
Community Service. Create a sense of belonging, responsibility, and service for your family by participating in city wide clean-ups or other service projects. Involvement teaches children that many hands make light work and that we all need to help each other to get a job done. If there ever is a need for community work during an emergency children will know how to help and work together.
Teach Health and Fitness. Having a strong mind and a healthy body aids a person in a disaster. Being able to react and withstand challenges is an important component of physical readiness. Youth can help with tasks such as sandbagging, shoveling, and cleaning if they have been physically active and living a healthy lifestyle.
Laughter is the Best Medicine. Humor reduces stress and anxiety by releasing feel-good hormones in the brain, promoting positive thinking and emotion. Make humor apart of everyday life. Encourage good jokes and optimism. Practice making tense situations lighter with laughter. Children will be reassured and relaxed during the stress that is associated with emergency if they can have the healthy outlet of laughter.
Being prepared for possible emergencies increases confidence, knowledge and skill in children of all ages. Because emergencies can cause high stress and have a negative impact and effect on people’s lives, especially children, it is important to take the necessary steps to prepare them for such situations. Also remember that children react to the emotions of those around them and can sense when there is fear, stress or anxiety. The best way to help a child in an emergency is to be prepared to deal with the situation yourself.