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Tips For Parents After a Disaster

As a resident of the Bay Area we are focused on being prepared for the ‘Big One’ - the probability of a major earthquake which is predicted to happen between now and 2032. Tonight as many families were in the process of their evening routine, at 6:05pm a thunderous blaze ripped through a San Bruno neighborhood and destroyed many homes. Reports state the cause was an explosion of a high-pressured gas line and the cause is currently unknown. This is a clear indication that a disaster can happen QUICKLY anywhere, and WITHOUT WARNING any time. The impact has devastating effects on all populations - elderly, minorities, persons with disabilities and children.

Disasters are already frightening for adults. Imagine how traumatic disasters can be for children. Precisely why your guidance towards your child’s comfort is highly important.

Age-Related Guidance:

1 to 5 years old: Abandonment can be a young child’s biggest fear.

  1. *constant verbal reassurance and physical comfort to show your child and family is safe

  2. *at your best continue to provide a comforting bedtime routine and reassure safety

  3. *allow your child to sleep with you until you return to your home (or permanent placement) to reduce post-traumatic fears

5 to 10 years old: Children at this age can become preoccupied with the details of a disaster and will want to continuously talk about it.

  1. *patiently talk to your child about his or her feelings about the disaster in words they can understand

  2. *share your feelings too to validate their feelings are normal

  3. *practice a safety routine for future disasters

10 to 15 years old: Preadolescent children need to know their fears are shared by their peers and that what they are feeling is normal.

  1. *give your child frequent attention and allow your child to talk about what happened

  2. *continue or engage your child to participate in peer group involvement and practice safety routine for future disasters

  3. *continue structured activity routine to replace current fears with positive memories

16 to 18 years old: An adolescent’s reaction mimics an adult’s reaction; or a mixed of child/adult reaction.

  1. *continue structured routines with friends and community to replace current fears with positive memories

  2. *encourage rehabilitation participation and engage your child to assist in planning a preparedness for future disasters

  3. *encourage your child to talk about what happened but based on his or her comfort level

It’s natural for each person to have a different reaction to a disaster. Stress is the most common, and can appear immediately, or in some cases can be delayed for hours, day, weeks, and even months! Although these reactions are normal, it is important to be aware of the severity of your symptoms and seek mental health assistance when necessary.

All children depend on their daily routines. When their routine is interrupted by a disaster, a child’s fear and anxiety will arise. Be aware children will often mimic your behavior and being the parent, they will look at you for help.

For more details on how to meet your child’s needs after a disaster, please read American Academy of Pediatrics publication, “Children & Disasters.”

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