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How to Help Children Cope With the California Wildfires

Ten Tips From Save the Children

By Charles MacCormack, President and CEO of Save the Children

WESPORT, Conn., Oct. 24 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The dramatic images of wildfires wreaking havoc in southern California are having an impact on children not only in the immediate area where the destruction is taking place but also on children throughout the country who are watching the destructive power of the flames on television.

Concerned about the emotional well-being of their children, many parents, teachers, grandparents and caregivers are looking for advice on how to respond to questions from children about unsettling and upsetting events that continue to be shown in the media about the fires and their impact on homes, families and pets.

Children often ask the adults in their lives to explain what they are seeing and reassure them about what will happen next:

"Will everything be OK? Why is this happening? What will happen to the children who have lost so much?"

How do we respond to these questions?

Following 9/11 -- and again after Hurricane Katrina -- Save the Children prepared the following 10 tips to help adults support children through times of crisis. These tips are based upon Save the Children's years of national and international experience and can be used as a guide for adults to support children through this current crisis. The relevancy of different tips may vary upon issues such as a child's previous experience, age and where he or she lives in the world.

1. Turn off the television. Watching television reports on disasters may

overwhelm younger children. They may not understand that the tape of

an event is being replayed, and instead think the disaster is

happening over and over again. Overexposure to coverage of the events

affects teenagers and adults as well. Television limits should be set

for both you and your children.

2. Listen to your children carefully. Before responding, get a clear

picture of what it is that they understand and what is leading to

their questions. Emotional stress results in part when a child cannot

give meaning to dangerous experiences. Find out what he or she

understands about what has happened. Their knowledge will be

determined by their age and their previous exposure to such events.

Begin a dialog to help them gain a basic understanding that is

appropriate for their age and responds to their underlying concerns.

3. Give children reassurance and psychological first-aid. Assure them

about all that is being done to protect children who have been

directly affected by this crisis. Take this opportunity to let them

know that if any emergency or crisis should occur, your primary

concern will be their safety. Make sure they know they are being


4. Be alert for significant changes. Parents should be alert to any

significant changes in sleeping patterns, eating habits,

concentration, wide emotional swings or frequent physical complaints

without apparent illness. If present, these will likely subside within

a short time. If prolonged, however, we encourage you to seek

professional support and counseling. For children directly affected by

this crisis -- such as children who have lost a loved one -- parents

should consult their pediatrician or family doctor and consider

counseling, not just for the child, but also for the entire family. It

may be an important preventative measure. But other children also may

be affected by the images they see and stories they hear.

5. Expect the unexpected. Not every child will experience these events in

the same way. As children develop, their intellectual, physical and

emotional capacities change. Younger children will depend largely on

their parents to interpret events, while older children and teenagers

will get information from a variety of sources which may not be as

reliable. Understand that older teenagers, because of their greater

capacity for understanding, may be more affected by these stories.

While teenagers seem to have more adult capacities to recover as well,

they still need extra love, understanding and support to process these


6. Give your children extra time and attention. They need your close,

personal involvement to comprehend that they are safe and secure.

Talk, play and, most important, listen to them. Find time to engage in

special activities for children of all ages. Read bedtime stories and

sing songs to help younger children fall asleep.

7. Be a model for your child. Your child will learn how to deal with

these events by seeing how you deal with them. Base the amount of

self-disclosure on the age and developmental level of each of your

children. Explain your feelings but remember to do so calmly.

8. Watch your own behavior. Make a point of showing sensitivity toward

those impacted by the disaster. This is an opportunity to teach your

children that we all need to help each other.

9. Help your children return to normal activities. Children almost always

benefit from activity, goal orientation and sociability. Ensure that

your child's school environment is also returning to normal patterns

and not spending great amounts of time discussing the crisis.

10. Encourage your child to do volunteer work. Helping others can give

your child a sense of control, security and empathy. Indeed, in the

midst of crisis, adolescents and youth can emerge as active agents of

positive change. Encourage your children to help support local

charities that assist children in need.

Save the Children, based in Westport, CT, can be reached at 1-800-728-3843, website: Our Address: 54 Wilton Road, Westport, CT, 06880

Save the Children is the leading independent organization creating lasting change for children in need in the United States and around the world. Save the Children USA is a member of the International Save the Children Alliance, a global network of 28 independent Save the Children organizations working to ensure the well-being and protection of children in more than 110 countries. For more information, visit

SOURCE Save the Children
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