Helping children feel safe and prepared for a crisis
How to create an emergency plan and have conversations that minimize anxiety
By Paul Taraborelli, MSW, LICSW, IMH-E®
The recent destruction left by Hurricane Ian serves as a reminder that times of crisis can often occur quickly with little or no warning. During these events, parents may be coping with children who feel increased worry and anxiousness. Parents and professionals can help by providing guidance on how to develop an at-home safety plan for times of crisis. Supplying children with the knowledge of what to do if an emergency occurs can reduce feelings of anxiety and provide them with a better sense of control in an uncontrollable situation. Below is guidance that our Military and Family Life counselors share with parents.
Emergency Plan Directions
- Designate a general meeting place. Establish an agreed upon safe place to meet if a parent will be unable to pick the child up from school or will not be at home. This could be a neighbor’s house or community meeting space. Children should be reassured that the adult they are with is aware of the plan, and the parent will meet them at the arranged meeting location.
- Create an emergency backpack. The backpack should have items the child may need in the event of a crisis, specifically, items necessary if an adult was unavailable at the time of the crisis.
- Compile a list of all emergency phone numbers. These numbers should be programmed into a child’s phone, if they have one, written down at home, and placed in the emergency backpack.
- Create a social media plan. Social media sites can be very effective in times of crisis. Discuss what social media site(s) will be used for family communication and information if cell service is down.
- Develop plans for the natural disasters most likely to occur in your area. These plans could include backup locations to go in case the family must leave their home, such as a relative’s house, a community shelter, or another designated safe place.
For even more tips on preparing an emergency plan, refer to the “Make a plan” section of Ready.gov.
Crisis Conversation Tips for Parents
In addition to creating an emergency plan for their home, parents will also need to discuss crises and other traumatic events, such as natural disasters, with their children. It can be difficult to know how to approach those topics or what to say that will be helpful. Below are tips for engaging in these conversations (Psychology Today, 7.26.22).
- Keep words and language child-friendly and age appropriate.
- Initiate the conversation in a calm manner.
- Leave time for the child to ask questions and remain silent during their questions or requests for clarification.
- Ask if they have any worries about a particular situation.
- For even more tips on preparing an emergency plan, refer to the “Make a plan” section of gov.
Creating an emergency plan and having open communication about this topic can benefit both the child and adult and may reduce feelings of anxiety in the child.
Paul Taraborelli, MSW, LICSW, IMH-E®, is a Child Youth Behavioral (CYB) Director on Magellan Federal’s Military Family Life Counseling program. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of New England and his master’s degree in social work from Boston University. He has held his independent license in Rhode Island for over 25 years and is an active member in Rhode Island’s Association of Infant Mental Health (RIAIMH). He has provided clinical consultations on early childhood mental health issues, approaches to supporting children in the classroom with a range of developmental, behavioral, and medical issues for early childhood programs and working with families with children presenting with behavioral concerns. He has presented in the past on topics including guiding behaviors in a classroom setting, the development and use of a bereavement protocol and services for families, adolescent drug abuse and treatment, and child abuse and neglect.