Don’t Be Scared, Be Prepared: Talking to your Child about Emergency Preparedness
Ready Georgia: Hello, and welcome to this edition of the Ready Georgia podcast series. In this episode, we’ll discuss the best ways to approach kids about difficult topics such as natural and manmade disasters, teach them about being prepared, and recommend fun activities to help minimize the confusion and emotional stress that can be associated with the unknown. Children are less fearful when they know where to go and what to do before and during a disaster. Prepare your child for emergencies by creating and practicing a customized plan for your family. Learning how to react to potential threats and taking steps toward family preparedness will help put you and your child at ease.
Ready Georgia: Our guest today is Dr. Angela Londono-McConnell, she is a licensed psychologist and co-founder of AK Counseling & Consulting, Inc. in Athens, GA. Her areas of expertise include health psychology, anxiety and stress-related concerns, as well as relationships. And, she is often invited to speak as a featured guest on regional, national and international media outlets.
Ready Georgia: Dr. Angela Londono-McConnell, which techniques do you recommend when talking with kids about scary topics like natural disasters and terrorism?
Dr. Londono-McConnell: It seems that children’s sense of vulnerability, and anxiety concerning natural disasters, is heightened if their parents engage in behaviors at avoiding such disasters. What I mean by that is, if parents choose to avoid particular activities because of a possible disaster or a terrorist attack, then children may perceive these behaviors as dangerous activities, which can lead to them feeling more anxious. So, in terms of what the parents can do to help the children get ready in case of such an event. It’s important to provide play activities to help them to understand and practice what they need to do in case of a disaster.
Ready Georgia: Much of a child’s world is made up of make-believe and fantasy. At what age is a child able to understand the reality of catastrophes? Most importantly, when are they old enough to learn about the importance of safety and being prepared before a disaster occurs?
Dr. Londono-McConnell: It is always important to talk to children about safety. Even before they can read, they can understand that in certain situations it helps to know what to do. For instance, call 9-1-1 to ask for help and about age five, if children are able to follow multi-step directions, they might be more likely to set an action plan for safety. However, it is really important that the action plan has easy-to-follow instructions so that they can easily remember what to do in high-stress situations. For example, “stop, drop and roll” is something easy for children to recall, especially steps that are songs or rhyming words.
Ready Georgia: In cases when the parents may feel anxious about certain topics, what strategies would you suggest to avoid transferring this feeling to children.
Dr. Londono-McConnell: Parents who experience high levels of anxiety, seem to also have difficulty handling their own kids emotions and reactions. So, it’s very important in those situations parents use tools that are available to them when they talk to children about such events. Children are incredibly receptive and they will pick up on a parent’s anxieties, so it’s very important that parents are mindful of the language that they use. Avoiding talking about the need to be well prepared in case of a disaster, can make children feel less protected and certainly less ready. The reality is that none of us know when a disaster may strike; however, parents may need to create an illusion for their children so that they can handle the situation and also talk to them with confidence about what to do. Children look to parents and adults for guidance on their life with structure. With older children, parents can illicit their help in getting kids ready for disaster, which in many instances make them feel more in control and better prepared for the unexpected. Children can adapt to the situation if they know what to expect and what to do. There should be a balance between not avoiding preparedness and not talking too much about it, which can lead to unnecessary anxiety about the topic.
Ready Georgia: Aside from basic conversation, what are some creative ways that you would suggest sharing potentially scary topics with your kids?
Dr. Londono-McConnell: Books, as well as pretend play. It’s also important to listen to the children’s fears and anxieties and there are ways to help them deal with what they are experiencing, instead of what we think. It also gives an opportunity to learn if there are any gaps in the information that they need to have. The only other thing that I think would be really interesting, would be if community centers, schools, places of worship or libraries could help prepare kids in case of a natural or man-made disaster through interactive theater to get the children to learn more about preparedness and a fun way for children to learn what they need to know.
Ready Georgia: Thank you very much, Dr. Angela Londono-McConnell. We are glad you could join us to share some valuable insights on how parents can talk with their children about natural disasters and other types of emergencies.
Dr. Londono-McConnell: Thank you so much for having me.
Ready Georgia: We all understand that speaking with young kids about disaster-related topics can be difficult. However, it is important that these discussions take place to ensure the best defense and preparation for an emergency that can strike at any time. One non-threatening way to get your kids ready for emergencies is by making a game of it.
– Conduct scavenger hunts of items that are included in an emergency or “Ready” kit such as a flashlight, batteries, canned food, water, medicines and pet food, if necessary
– Brainstorm words that relate to emergency preparedness and create flashcards to review and discuss with your child
– Design creative artwork to decorate your Ready kit
– Make a customized kit for your family and ask your child to pick items to include (for example, a favorite stuffed animal, books and crayons with a drawing pad)
– Encourage children to prepare a skit of how your family should respond to an emergency
– You can even tour a fire department, or other emergency service provider, to reassure your child and inform him/her of the various safety options available in your community
– Create emergency kits to give to family members as gifts during the holidays, and
– Find ways to get active in your community by working with a local disaster relief organization to help others become prepared for an emergency or enroll your child in scout programs that teach preparedness
Ready Georgia: For additional resources about preparing your family for an emergency, visit ready-dot-g-a-dot-gov. We hope that you’ve enjoyed this edition of the Ready Georgia podcast. Be sure to join us in September when we talk about potential threats of terrorism in Georgia and how you can prepare and stay informed.