Wildfire Danger: How Can Parents Help Calm Their Children? | Environment

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Wildfire Danger: How Can Parents Help Calm Their Children?
Wildfire Danger: How Can Parents Help Calm Their Children?

Massive wildfires continue to rage throughout Northeast Florida.  The chance of potential evacuations remains high.  Many children are seeing television or newspaper reports about the risk of wildfires. Because of these factors, the Florida Department of Children and Families is issuing expert tips from Child Guidance Center to help parents address their children’s concerns.

 “We care deeply about children, and we want families to be aware but not alarmed, and to be prepared but not scared,” said Nancy Dreicer, Northeast Regional Director for DCF.

“First, parents need to consider their own fears and their own worries.  As with any crisis situation, they must stay calm and get themselves under control,” explained Dr. Theresa Rulien, CEO of Child Guidance Center.  “Children are watching them and will pick up on their emotions.  Many parents aren’t aware of this.  They’re used to telling children ‘do as I say, not as I do.’  But research shows that children are influenced by their parents’ body language and tone of voice even more than what a parent says, especially during a crisis.  It’s really scary for a child to see a parent who is not in control of the situation.”

Here are more expert tips from Dr. Rulien at the Child Guidance Center and safety experts to help parents when talking to their children about wildfires:

  • Although parents should keep their own fears and their concerns in mind, they should not share them with their children.  Children don’t need to hear what their parents are afraid of.
  • On an ongoing basis, parents should see how their children are feeling, and listen to them and their concerns.
  • It’s better for parents to answer any questions their children may have about wildfires instead of simply providing them with information. This is especially important with young children.
  • When talking with children about what the family will do if an evacuation is necessary, parents should use a reassuring tone of voice. They should assure the children that the family has a safety plan in the event of an emergency.
  • Parents should not talk with young children about what items they would like to take out of the house in the event of an evacuation.  But they can talk with teenagers to see what things they would like to take with them.
  • It may be best for parents to pay attention to how much they let their children see regarding video or pictures of wildfires.  They may not need to see all the devastation, depending on the age of the child.
  • Preparing a family disaster plan is a way to reassure children that they will be safe and that the family will stay together.  Have a pre-determined meeting place for family members.  Make sure your family knows where to go at home or somewhere else.  It’s also a good idea for everyone to know who to call to check in.
  • If local authorities recommend that you evacuate your home, you should leave.  An evacuation order is based on authorities’ knowledge of the wildfire and the potential destruction it may cause.

Nearly half of all families do not have a disaster plan, according to estimates by local emergency officials.  The State of Florida has prepared a website to help families prepare their own disaster plans.  The website is http://www.floridadisaster.org.

These tips are provided as a service by the Florida Department of Children and Families, based on information from Child Guidance Center.

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