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How to get your family through wildfires and other disasters

Help your kids manage trauma from natural disasters

This week, more than 26 million residents are under a ?red flag warning? due to spreading wildfires in California and Arizona. In Sonoma County, the Kincade Fire has destroyed more than 76,000 acres, land on which thousands made homes and built family memories. For those who don?t live in the eye of the storm, wildfires can seem like just an unfortunate weather phenomenon. For those who call the Napa and Sonoma areas home, the current wildfire is a personal family crisis.

Getting kids physically safe from the dangers of a wildfire is crucial but just the beginning of mitigating the fire’s impact on their lives. Escaping the spreading wildfires, having to evacuate, and leaving home mark significant life events for kids. Parents must worry about more than their homes and belongings; they worry about keeping their children mentally and emotionally healthy.

Before: Prepare And Plan

If your family lives in an area where wildfires (or other weather disasters) commonly occur, you should prepare your home to best avoid destruction. Maybe you have planned financially in case you lose your home and must evacuate.

Let’s get more personal. With kids, preparation means talking to them in a child-appropriate way about the risks of wildfires. The surprise of an extreme weather event can be more shocking if kids had no idea about the reality of such dangers and what might happen. Tell your kids what a wildfire is, why it might happen, and what will happen if a wildfire occurs.

  • If your child is at school, what will happen to him should evacuation be required
  • What will you all do if forced to evacuate from your home
  • With evacuation, you and your kids might be afraid of being separated and then reunited. What is your reunification plan

Discuss these details with your kids and ensure that the grown-ups have plans for what will happen. Instill confidence in them that there are plans to keep you and them safe and to move forward as a family after the fire. If you seem prepared and confident in the plan, kids will probably be less anxious.

Get the latest information on California wildfires, including the Kincade fire, at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s website.


During: Lead By Example

You will undoubtedly be stressed and emotional when wildfires threaten your home and way of life. Do your best to remain calm and guide your family through the trauma in a stable manner. Kids are sensitive and can feel more than we realize. If you seem okay and confident that things will be okay, kids tend to follow suit. Protect their emotional state by projecting emotional strength yourself.

Follow through with the communicated plans you discussed as a family before the wildfire happened. Communicate and walk your kids through the plans. Allow them to ask questions. Allow them to be emotional. Again, you try to remain calm so you can effectively communicate the steps your family will take to rebuild some normalcy.

After: Be Open To Feelings, Discussion, And Regression

Losing a home or just seeing the roaring fire can be major trauma to a kid. These are events that even the most stable adults don?t get over quickly; a child can have lingering issues following the incident. Be prepared for and open to some emotional changes in your kids. They could even have physical setbacks such as bedwetting or sleep disturbances.

React with compassion and patience. Talk to them and listen to their concerns and feelings. Tell them they are okay and do your best to make them feel safe and heard. If they miss their home, talk about the home and what they or you miss. Don?t pretend the loss didn?t happen. You can relate to them but, again, try to lead in a calm yet honest way.

If you need help knowing how to deal with the trauma and aftermath of a wildfire, counseling is an invaluable resource. You could learn how to not only manage your feelings but how to help your kids. Counseling can be powerful for kids? healing, too. Your healthcare provider and/or kids? school can provide names of counseling providers to help.

A Fire’s Power Is Only So Strong

Today, you might be dealing with an altered reality because of the Sonoma and Napa wildfires. For your sake and the sake of your kids, aim to bring some familiarity into your otherwise new day. If possible, visit friends and family. Visit a restaurant you all love. Watch a movie that has brought you together in the past.

Natural disasters like wildfires happen. We cannot completely prevent them. A constant that you can control is the way you manage your family and respond to tragedy. A family’s bond is stronger than a fire. Keep that in mind in the coming days as you attempt to rebuild. With family by your side, all is never lost.