Plan & Prepare
Helping Children Cope with Disaster
Floods...Hurricanes... Hazardous Materials Spills
may strike quickly and without warning. These events
can be frightening for adults, but they are traumatic
for children if they don't know what to do.
a disaster, your family may have to leave your home
and daily routine. Children may become anxious, confused
or frightened. As an adult, you'll need to cope with
the disaster in a way that will help children avoid
developing a permanent sense of loss. It is important
to give children guidance that will help them reduce
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the American
Red Cross have prepared this brochure to help you
help your children cope. Ultimately, you should decide
what's best for your children, but consider using these
suggestions as guidelines.
and Their Response to Disaster
depend on daily routines: They wake up, eat breakfast,
go to school, play with friends. When emergencies or
disasters interrupt this routine, children may become
a disaster, they'll look to you and other adults for
help. How you react to an emergency gives them clues
on how to act. If you react with alarm, a child may
become more scared. They see our fear as proof that
the danger is real. If you seem overcome with a sense
of loss, a child may feel their losses more strongly.
fears also may stem from their imagination, and you
should take these feelings seriously. A child who feels
afraid is afraid. Your words and actions can provide
reassurance. When talking with your child, be sure to
present a realistic picture that is both honest and
or fear are healthy and natural for adults and children.
But as an adult, you need to keep control of the situation.
When you're sure that danger has passed, concentrate
on your child's emotional needs by asking the child
what's uppermost in his or her mind. Having children
participate in the family's recovery activities will
help them feel that their life will return to "normal."
Your response during this time may have a lasting impact.
aware that after a disaster, children are most afraid
event will happen again
will be injured or killed
will be separated from the family
will be left alone
to Parents: Prepare for Disaster
can create a Family
Disaster Plan by taking four simple steps. First,
learn what hazards exist in your community and how to
prepare for each. Then meet with your family to discuss
what you would do, as a group, in each situation. Next,
take steps to prepare your family for disaster such
as: posting emergency phone numbers, selecting an out-of-state
family contact, assembling disaster supplies kits for
each member of your household and installing smoke detectors
on each level of your home. Finally, practice your Family
Disaster Plan so that everyone will remember what to
do when a disaster does occur.
and practice a Family Disaster Plan. Contact your
local emergency management or civil defense office,
or your local Red Cross chapter for materials that
describe how your family can create a disaster plan.
Everyone in the household, including children, should
play a part in the family's response and recovery
your child how to recognize danger signals. Make
sure your child knows what smoke detectors, fire alarms
and local community warning systems (horns, sirens)
how to call for help. Teach your child how and
when to call for help. Check the telephone directory
for local emergency phone numbers and post these phone
numbers by all telephones. If you live in a 9-1-1-service
area, tell your child to call 9-1-1.
your child memorize important family information.
Children should memorize their family name, address
and phone number. They should also know where to meet
in case of an emergency. Some children may not be
old enough to memorize the information. They could
carry a small index card that lists emergency information
to give to an adult or babysitter.
The Disaster: Time For Recovery
after the disaster, try to reduce your child's fear
the family together. While you look for housing
and assistance, you may want to leave your children
with relatives or friends. Instead, keep the family
together as much as possible and make children a part
of what you are doing to get the family back on its
feet. Children get anxious, and they'll worry that
their parents won't return.
and firmly explain the situation. As best as you
can, tell children what you know about the disaster.
Explain what will happen next. For example, say, "Tonight,
we will all stay together in the shelter." Get
down to the child's eye level and talk to them.
children to talk. Let children talk about the
disaster and ask questions as much as they want. Encourage
children to describe what they're feeling. Listen
to what they say. If possible, include the entire
family in the discussion.
children in recovery activities. Give children
chores that are their responsibility. This will help
children feel they are part of the recovery. Having
a task will help them understand that everything will
be all right.
can help children cope by understanding what causes
their anxieties and fears. Reassure them with firmness
and love. Your children will realize that life will
eventually return to normal. If a child does not respond
to the above suggestions, seek help from a mental health
specialist or a member of the clergy.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency's Community
and Family Preparedness Program developed this brochure
in cooperation with the American Red Cross' Community
Disaster Education Program. Both are national efforts
to help people prepare for disasters of all types. For
more information on how to prepare for and respond to
disaster, contact your local or State office of emergency
management and your local Red Cross chapter. Ask for
Disaster Plan." Or, write to: FEMA, P.O.
Box 70274, Washington, D.C. 20024. FEMA L-196, ARC 4499