April/May  2009
Issue No. 14

Help! Fire!

Hello and welcome to another Solutions in Parenting Newsletter. This month's newsletter usually has something special for moms, due to Mother's Day. We still will include some important things for those special moms, but we have a different topic to address in this issue, as well. We are going to focus on, in particular,  how to talk to your kids about natural disasters.

Santa Barbara, California just experienced a wildfire that displaced 30,000 residents from their homes, burned close to 9,000 acres, and burned or destroyed close to 100 homes. Of those 30,000 residents, many of them were children and teenagers. And many of them were terrified.

As parents, we may not know how to talk to our children about disasters. What do you say? What should you do? How do you deal with your children's fears without increasing them? Is it possible to reassure them when you, yourself, are terrified?

We will provide you with five tips for helping communicate to your children about natural disasters. With compassion, empathy, and some key phrases, you can help educate and calm your kids (and maybe even yourself!) whether you are experiencing a disaster, or if you just need to translate the world to your kids.


Five Tips for Talking to Your Kids About Disaster

Children rely on their parents to help them make sense of the world around them. This is true from the moment they are born, until they become adults (and they even need parental reassurance then, too). Kids especially need this support when they have directly experienced tragedy or an emergency situation, or when they have witnessed something disruptive or traumatic.

The following tips, though abridged, will help guide you as parents, teachers, and caregivers, to support the kids around you with effective and connecting communication skills.

1.  Remember to Breathe. Even if you and your family are in the middle of evacuating your home, or have witnessed tragedy in some way, taking a few seconds to breathe deeply can help everyone remain centered and a bit more calm. Help your kids manage their big feelings by having them take big breaths in and out. You can say, "breathe the "scared" in through your nose and breathe it out your mouth". Have them exaggerate the breathing out to communicate the idea that they can begin to control how much panic or fear they need to feel. They have the power to experience it, then let it pass through them. Not only will the kids benefit from the cognitive image of controlling their emotions, remember that deep breathing is very often used as therapy for problems like hyperventilation and anxiety disorders, and it releases endorphins into the system. Just what we all need during emergency or tragic situations.

2.  Concentrate on Feelings.
Your children will be feeling an incredible range of emotions from excitement, confusion, fear, to sadness, panic, and anger. Let them feel all of them. The best thing to do is listen, without judgment or direction, to what your kids are saying as well as how they are saying it. This will help you to translate unexpressed and often unrecognized feelings they may have. Phrases such as, "you sound afraid your house might burn down", and "you might be feeling sad about your friends right now", can prompt timely expression of feelings. Let them talk, draw, dance, record video/audio, write stories, or any other kind of expression to help them cope with their feelings.

3.  Answer Their Questions. Once kids have seen the images of destruction and tragedy, debriefing is essential. Provide the scientific information they are craving. Use age-appropriate language describing what you know about how tidal waves are created, what starts and spreads a fire, why floods happen, etc. If necessary use books, magazines, and online resources to assist you in providing this information. This is where you need to be careful of too much information that can increase their worry and anxiety.  Answer their direct questions, but be brief, accurate, and appropriate.

4.  Find the "Helpers". During any tragedy, there are always helpers-those are the heroes who step forward and help those in need. Encourage your kids to identify those helpers. Point them out to your children, as well. These could be the firefighters, police, Red Cross, doctors, nurses, neighbors, friends, or perfect strangers. Talk about how those people help, why they help, and how that help has affected your family. Teaching your kids to find the helpers will assist them outside of tragedy, as well. They may learn that when problems arise in their own lives, they will never be alone because helpers are everywhere-on the playground, in the mall, on the highway, or at work.

5.  Be the "Helpers". It is possible to use tragic situations to help your children learn lessons of love and compassion and the indomitable nature of the human spirit. When you are out of immediate danger or panic, help your children understand that tragedy happens all of the time, and although it feels devastating, life always continues because that is how it is meant to be. Plants sprout again from lava-burned ground, houses are rebuilt after fire and floods, people laugh and love again even when they don't think it possible. Discuss with your children how you as a family can be helpers during the time of tragedy. Perhaps you can send money, give blood, make "thank you" signs, or donate clothing or food to the Red Cross. Let your kids directly experience the magic of being "helpers". Let them see and be love in action. They will be able to personally experience what it means to "be one" with all.

The scope and pain of tragic catastrophes is at times immeasurable. Yet those horrific events can serve a useful purpose if we can use them to teach our children about feelings, "helpers" and the connectedness of all human beings. 

Pssst. Do you notice that we look a little different? We are always expanding and trying new things to meet our needs as well as yours. What do you think of our new look? Let us know, we are always curious.

Monthly Parenting Challenge
Can you think about a time when you really needed help, and someone was there to give that help to you? How did that feel? How do you feel now when you remember that time?

This next month, try to find the helpers in your community. They are there all of the time, even without tragedy. Who are they? What are they doing for you?

Talk to your kids about these people. Start a dialog about helping back and see what happens.

Let us know how it goes, we are always curious.

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Meet Kristi Miller

Kristi Miller, MA, CAPI, and Solutions in Parenting Founder, is a Certified Aware Parenting Instructor and Parenting Consultant who offers a distinctive form of parent education coupled with hands-on training for parents and their families. For more than a decade, Kristi has been dedicated to a specialized form of parent education she developed which honors and encourages parents and helps them define and maintain their own personal styles. This, in turn, allows children to thrive in a loving and collaborative environment.