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Dealing with Natural Disasters- 5 steps to help children cope

Once again our news is covering a tragedy, this time in Oklahoma where a tornado left behind nothing but devastation. Much of the news coverage is focused on the two elementary schools torn to shreds. We see video of small children being dug out of the rubble, parents reuniting with their children and other parents desperately waiting for news of their own missing children.

Parents, remember, as you watch the news and process through the feelings that such tragedies bring, your children are too. Some children feel sadness, some may not react at all and others may want to collect their pennies to send to the families in need. Still others may be frightened by what they’ve seen and heard and wonder “What if that happened at my school?”

Here’s your opportunity to have some short, yet empowering, discussions with your children. Even if your child isn’t outwardly showing concern regarding this particular event, it’s good to take the time to chat with them about how to handle such a situation. Being proactive and giving your children the knowledge they need will help them feel empowered and can reduce any stress the may have. Here’s 5 tips to help:

1. Ask your child about the steps they have taken at school to know what to do in case of an emergency (ie, fire drills, tornado drills, etc)

2. Have your child tell you specifically where they go for each drill. Reviewing this will refresh the details in your child’s mind as well as reassure you that your child is clear on what to do.

3. Knowing where your child will be located will allow you to find your child on site during an emergency.

4. As a family develop a plan of action for emergencies at home and practice it. For example, have your entire family practice an escape route in case of fire and set a meeting place (we set the next door neighbor’s mailbox as our meeting place). What if there is a tornado? Make a plan for that too, including where to go for safety, what to have packed in an emergency bag, etc.

5. Have a plan of action for communicating with each other and let the children know which adults they can ask for help or contact in case they can’t contact you.

Most importantly, include your children in all of this planning, reviewing and preparing. Some children may enjoy the process of researching “what to have in a first aid kit” or “what to pack in an emergency bag.” This will give your child a sense of control and confidence by focusing on being prepared instead of worrying about “what if’s.”

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