Natural disasters (e.g., Tornado, Hurricane), is your child emotionally prepared? In essence, I am asking you; how do you think your child would fare should such a disaster strike? What do you think your child’s reactive response would be should a natural disaster strike? How would your child act/behave?
It is the opinion of this parenting expert, your very own Dr. Karen Ruskin that the five most common reactive responses that children display include:
3) Takes Action
4) Upset (internal and/or external)
Imagine you are in your home watching television with your child and the news anchor states: “There is a Tornado warning in effect”. The anchor names your county as one of the counties that this warning is in effect for. Now ask yourself, how will my child respond after hearing this news? Will your child freak out, panic, react upset, and wreak havoc on those around him? Will he remain calm and figure out how to increase the chances for survival? Will your child behave as though this information was just a simple cereal commercial? Will your child be in shock, stunned, and show no ability to function? Will your child find this news interesting and be curious about it? Consider how you will respond. Know this: the parental response does indeed play a role in the response of the child.
The following five most common reactive responses explained:
Ignore: If your child displays any or all of the following this is representative of ignoring: appears oblivious, in denial, appears disinterested, and/or appears as though he does not care/this news does not matter nor impact him in his life. This is the child that hears the news and then continues to do whatever activity it is that he was doing and does not stop to consider the possibility that he may be impacted by the events at hand.
Frozen: The best way to describe a frozen reaction is to share with you to imagine the following scenario: imagine a deer staring at the head lights of your car. This is the child that does not take action to save him self or others. This is the child that stops what he is doing and looks like he is in a different zone, just simply – frozen. He hears the news and then stares.
Takes Action: This is the reactive response you would hope your child has, this is survival instinct. Survival instinct can be taught. This is the child that attends to what he needs to help increase the chances of personal survival. For an example, he may get a back pack from his closet and put what he thinks he would need if his belongings were all destroyed and he needs to survive for several hours.
Upset: The upset reactive response is where a child displays upset internally and/or externally. An internal response is one in which the child focuses his upset within one’s own self, it’s a response turned inward which commonly is displayed as symptoms of inward anxiety (e.g., nail biting, appears worried, nervous, anxious) or symptoms of depression (e.g., crying). A response turned outward is an external reactive response (e.g., verbally aggressive to another, physical towards one’s sibling).
Interested: The interested reactive response is where a child finds the news fascinating, perhaps cool. This child is curious and interested in understanding and learning about the natural disaster. This response is also a reaction a parent may hope one’s child has in conjunction with a child that takes action. Wanting to be informed and knowledgeable about life events is helpful on many levels. One important feature is that knowledge is power, meaning, to be informed increases the likelihood one makes wise decisions because one is “in the know”.
The advice I shall offer to parents to prepare your child emotionally is to communicate with them before a natural disaster strikes in your county. The following are a few key points to consider in your conversation. When there is a natural disaster reported on the news for another state, or even country, rather than shielding your child from this information, have a discussion with him. Use natural disasters in or out of state as an opportunity to discuss and explore with your child what he already knows about natural disasters. Educate your child about what you know about the particular natural disaster on the news that week/that month. Ask your child about his thoughts, concerns, and fears. You can research the topic as a team on the internet. Discuss with your child the five different common responses to natural disasters documented on this blog. Ask your child how he thinks he would respond versus how he would like to respond. Explore the philosophical belief that we can choose how we respond. Ask your child if he believes in the theory of ‘choice response’. Discuss with your child how you feel you would respond and would like to respond. Discuss with your child your genuine opinion that they are safe and you sincerely are not worried. Explain that being prepared, taking action, and being informed is the best approach to life, not just for natural disasters.
Reassure your child that you feel they are safe AND it is healthy to feel prepared and informed.
It is the reassurance of and comfort in one’s safety, combined with self awareness of one’s feelings, in conjunction with mindful awareness of what actions one can take for self advocacy, taking action, and being educated/informed – that are important for life all around. Explain to your child, and recognize this as an adult, it is a great skill to have; self advocacy and action in a controlled manner that makes you feel like you are in control even when something is out of your control. If you have a story you wish to share about how your child reacted to a natural disaster, you are welcome to express.