Things happen. Parents need to handle an emergency without scaring our kids. From natural disasters to family crises, here’s how to handle an emergency.
Here’s something quirky about me: I’m scared of earthquakes.
As in, the slightest jolt has me looking at my nearest exit or safety spot. And where I keep my eyeglasses within easy reach on my nightstand should I need to grab them before they’re knocked down on the floor in the middle of the night.
Oh, and I live in California. Yeah, not the best combination.
And since my kids have yet to experience anything life-shattering or tragic, I’d really like it if I can handle emergencies rationally—a way to keep my own fears at bay so as not to add unnecessary ones to my kids.
First, some background:
I know exactly where this fear of earthquakes stemmed from. Back when I was in middle school, we were hit with a pretty hard one—a 6.7 earthquake. Nothing catastrophic that shatters a whole city, but enough to take buildings down. To make matters worse, it happened in the middle of the night around four in the morning.
So imagine sleeping soundly in your bed only to wake up with the entire house rattling and things falling with no idea what’s happening.
I already had terrible eyesight then, but I didn’t think to grab my eyeglasses and instead relied on my sisters’ guidance to leave the house. I couldn’t see anything.
I was scared as hell. And I was already a “big kid”—an eighth-grader ready to enter high school.
How to handle an emergency
So you can imagine why I keep my eyeglasses nearby. Why I run to my kids’ room at the slightest jolt. And why I don’t want them to get scared the way I did should anything major happen.
So back to that question—How exactly do I handle an emergency without scaring my kids?
#1 Don’t freak out.
So simple, but so hard. Yet so important.
I have to cut myself some slack though. The last few times an earthquake hit didn’t exactly find me in the best of situations. The most recent one happened while I was peeing (not cool, earth), and twice before that, I was in the middle of nursing my twins. It’s funny to think of it now, but not when you’re trying to move two suckling babies while looking for a safe space.
Still, freaking out doesn’t do anyone good. You’re too reactive and not thinking clearly.
I’m also likely to freak my husband out who probably could handle a situation with cool had his wife not been hissing behind him to, “Open the door! Open the door!” as we made our way towards the kids’ room.
“Relax,” he said. “You don’t want the kids to see you like that.”
Which is really the biggest reason we shouldn’t freak out. The kids don’t need to see us hyperventilating over a little tremor that they’ve manage to sleep through or not think anything about.
(Truth be told, there was only one earthquake when our son actually woke up. Usually they just sleep right through them or don’t notice them when they’re awake.)
Kids will pick up our reaction. If we freak out, they’ll think, “Maybe I should freak out too. Maybe this thing is a pretty big deal if my normally calm mom is going ballistic.”
Don’t sugar coat a situation, but keep things neutral and matter-of-fact.
#2 Reassure your kids.
After that large earthquake back in eighth grade, my family and I were still standing outside the lawn, unsure what next to do. I still had no answers—all I knew was that a huge earthquake sent all our dishes crashing on the floor and our books flying off the shelves. Everything was in disarray.
As we stood outside, I caught sight of a woman who looked pretty “official”and whom I thought was a police officer.
“Finally!” I thought. I felt so relieved thinking we were finally getting help, attention, answers, from official people. I heaved a sigh of relief as I made my way towards her.
Unfortunately, it turned out she was just another neighbor, coming over to see how we were (I told you my eyes were bad). Just as suddenly as I felt relieved, I was back to feeling lost.
As adults, it’s so easy to focus on the technicalities. Sometimes we have to—gas pipes need to be turned off, damage needs assessing. Yet in the middle of our tasks, let’s not forget one of our duties—to reassure our kids that we’re okay. That they need only rely on us and not burden the worries on themselves.
Kids will worry, no doubt. Which is more reason to make ourselves available to assuage their fears. Hold your kids close. Let them know the proactive steps you’re taking, and that things will work out.
#3 Talk to your kids on their level.
One of the terrible things about crises and emergencies is that they catch even us off guard. It’s one thing to explain what we know to our kids, yet it’s completely different when we ourselves are at a loss on what to do.
That said, talk to your young kids on a level that they can comprehend. They need to know the truth, but not with the same details you would tell an adult or even a teenager. Shield them from the unnecessary and explain in ways they can understand, using words and examples common to their lingo.
Similarly, don’t sugar coat the situation either. Kids can sense phoniness. They might think things are worse than they are when they see your ultra bright smile plastered on a face that can’t mask your fear.
Most importantly, let them know proactive things you’re doing to right the situation. It’s easy for kids to feel helpless when the world around them changes in ways they can’t imagine.
Give them back some control and assurance by letting them know the positive steps you’re taking. For instance,
- Is your child overwhelmed with a recent oil spill polluting your area? Let her know you’ve written a letter to your representatives voicing your concern.
- Is she afraid of natural disasters like earthquakes, fires and tornadoes? Show her your emergency kit and food supply.
- Is she having a difficult time falling asleep after a disturbance in your neighborhood? Offer a comfort item, sleep in her room, or explain how quickly you can call for help should anything happen.
Kids need to know that they don’t have to carry the burden of worrying on their shoulders. They can count on us to protect them and keep them safe.
You can’t predict emergencies. They pop up out of nowhere, sending you frantic and fearful. And along the way, your little one probably feels the same, perhaps even more.
So while you focus on Important Things, your little one is watching your every move, looking for signs of worry and distress, to gauge whether things truly are out of control.
In most cases, we rectify the situation. In many more cases, the emergency is only a small altercation—a little jolt—to our routine. Things will settle down, usually in a few minutes.
And during that time, watch how you react. Keep your cool. Console and reassure your kids that you’ve got this. And speak to their age, not yours.
In doing so, you teach your kids how to handle situations, and that most aren’t anything to fuss about. And you’ll remind her that she can rely on you even when things seem scary and out of place.
Get more tips:
- Parenting: The Never-Ending Worry
- The Vulnerability of Parenthood
- What You Need to Do when You’re Stressed about Money
- Don’t Stress (Too Much) about Your Child’s Developmental Milestones
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