Guiding Children Through a Natural Disaster
On March 23, 2014 our county experienced a tragic natural disaster. The Oso, WA landslide came without a warning that Saturday and wiped out homes and families. There are still many missing and we lost so many already. The entire neighboring towns including my own town I live in less than 20 miles from the slide is embracing Oso, WA. My son is 5 and not only does he catch our local news break ins as they update us throughout the day, we have helicopters continuously flying over our house and along the highway we have passed a few times since a lot full of news vans (must be where they gather and keep equipment).
Schools are helping and praying and he is aware something has happened. Do you shelter your child from news? No, you can’t. They hear about it at school or as they flip through channels. I decided to make sure that I controlled how he processed what he knows and you can too as a Parent. Not only is it important to make sure they ahves gathered accurate information, but this is an opportunity to teach about helping a community and I see many parents doing this in my town. Kids outside of our grocery stores helping parents collect food and some organizing events at their schools. Here is how you can help your child cope.
Inform and Educate
It is natural to want to isolate your child from the reality in fear they may become scared or worry. They do hear about such events when they happen in your town. It is important to ask questions daily. Ask them what they hear and ask what to they think happened. This gives you a chance to explain miscommunication they have grabbed onto as well as open up discussion on their fears or concerns. My son had asked if we could be in a landslide. I took him outside the house and we looked around: “Do we live on a hill?”-NO “Do we live at the bottom a hill?” NO. Quickly I saw the relief in his face.
Don’t just tell them-show them if you can. Educate them. I had to explain how many thousands-millions of hills there are in the world and a landslide like OSO’s has never happened like this anywhere. So this was an accident and now scientists will study what happened so they can learn more and make sure this never happens again to any other town. Let’s face it, you cannot completely isolate your child from such a large occurrence, but you can make sure what they know is accurate and that they are not left internalizing thier fears.
Take the landslide in OSO for example. On our way home from dropping off donated items that were needed for the first responders, my son asked how some people escaped and got rescued. I was able to have the conversation about Safety with him in the event that we do have a disaster. As well, it is important they understand who a ‘first responder’ is so they are prepared and comforted that people will come and will be available to help rescue you.
The best way to have this conversation is to create critical thinkers. If they can think their way through this conversation, they will remember how to think themselves through a natural disaster if, heavens forbid, they ever become trapped in one themselves. I asked him “How does he think some were rescued?” He hypothesized. This is how the conversation went and he became quite inquisitive. It lead to a sense of pride and accomplishment as I congratulated him for some awesome thinking. Some questions to ask and guide them through may be:
“If you are stuck inside and cannot move, how would you let someone know where you are?” Answers you may get: Call on my phone if I can, yell, throw things, bang on something-all great answers!
“When you see power lines down(show them what a power line looks like), would you touch any of the wires? Why not?”
“You are in an earthquake? What steps do you take when things start shaking?”
“Find yourself in a fire, what do you do?”
“If you see someone hurt and there is danger in the way, what would you do?”
You will have to guide them through these-help give examples, but make sure they have the opportunity to answer for themselves. Think about scenarios and give them! Perhaps you say “…someone is across a busy road hurt-would you run across the road? What could you do instead?” These all allow for critical thinking & that critical thinking just may save their lives one day if they become trapped and alone!
Different natural disasters may reap different efforts and volunteer opportunities. But when your town is offering aid and donations, this is a good time to teach your child compassion. For example, here is what I did with my 5 year old 2 days after the OSO slide. We started at Safeway. I heard through our towns FB page that volunteer firefighters were there collecting food, cash and baby supplies for the OSO victims. We went in and bought several boxes of pasta and jars of sauces. Went through check out and I handed my son the cart to push towards the nice firefighter helping out. He proudly handed over the bags and was thanked so kindly by the man.
Next we head to the STUMP- a bar and grill in Arlington advertising they were donating 100% of its breakfast & lunch profits the first week to the OSO relief fund. We had an amazing lunch and I had him thank the nice owners. As we drove home and had the safety talk I described above, we heard a commercial that said the American Legion was in dire need of towels, soaps and shampoos for the First Responders as they are having to shower multiple times a day and they are running out. I found out I can donate at our local cafe and we veered into the Walmart parking lot. We loaded up on shampoos, soaps, toothbrushes and deodorants. I let my son buy a ball he wanted to thank him for being such a good helper. Then we drove to the Rainy Days Cafe in town and dropped off our donations (Mom got a mocha too, so it was a win-win).
Make a day of it
Map out some stops. Have a talk with the kids and head out for a feel good day you will all never forget.
In conclusion, Kids are easy to mold and please. Even when the scale of a Natural Disaster is so large and incomprehensible to us adults, to the kids it is not a large event. They will not wrap their brains around the larger scale of a disaster zone the way we can. Very young children do not even understand the concept of 1 block or 1 mile. So, it is important to educate them with these real life safety examples then close with a feel-good day, is a great way to leave them the message that accidents do happen. Finally, finish it off with a small reward and tell them you are proud of their help and the natural disaster has been a positive experience for them despite the tragedy.
You can read more about my son & I experience with photos from the OSO disaster HERE.