National Preparedness Month: Tips for Dealing With Children Before, During and After Emergencies

Fairfax County Office of Public Affairs
12000 Government Center Parkway, Suite 551
Fairfax, VA 22035-0065
Contact: Merni Fitzgerald, Director of Public Affairs
703-324-3187, TTY 711, Fax 703-324-2010
Media Pager: 703-324-NEWS (6397)

Sept. 7, 2007

 National Preparedness Month: Tips for Dealing With Children Before, During and After Emergencies

National Preparedness Month is a nationwide effort held each September to encourage people to take simple steps to prepare for emergencies in their homes, businesses and schools. National Preparedness Month 2007 is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The goal of the month is to increase public awareness about the importance of preparing for emergencies and to encourage individuals to take action.

“Most residents know what they need to do to prepare for an emergency: assemble a kit, make a family communications plan and stay informed,” said Roy B. Shrout, acting emergency management coordinator for Fairfax County. “But oftentimes, children’s emotional needs are overlooked. Emergencies are frightening and confusing for children and we as parents need to take special care to deal with this issue in an age appropriate way, without scaring them.”

Fairfax County’s Office of Emergency Management offers the following tips for dealing with the difficult emotional issues that surround children before, during and after emergencies.

If you plan to include your school-age children in the development of an emergency preparedness plan, the following suggestions may be helpful:

  • Explain (in simple terms) why it is important to have the family emergency plan.
  • Explain that nothing bad is happening at this moment.
  • Involve your children in the planning. For example, they can help to check for batteries, help purchase supplies, etc.
  • Reassure children they will be protected by a friend, relative or someone else who cares about them until parents can arrive.
  • Stay calm. Remember children will be as calm and cooperative as the adults around them.
  • Explain it is okay to feel scared or afraid.

Parents should expect different reactions from elementary, middle and high school age children involved in emergencies.

However, the age ranges generally share these reactions:

  • Feelings of anxiety, fears and worries about safety of self and others.
  • Worries about reoccurrence of the incident.
  • Increased likelihood to discuss the gruesome details.
  • Increased sensitivity to loud, startling sounds.
  • Hate or anger statements.
  • Withdrawal.
  • Changes in school performance.

What you can do to help:

  • Reassure him/her of his/her safety and security.
  • Hug and hold your child. Affection helps!
  • Maintain a predictable schedule for consistency.
  • Listen to your child’s retelling of events. He/she will most likely retell several times.
  • Encourage them to talking about their feelings.
  • Validate strong feelings of anger, but help them separate thoughts about perpetrators from a more generalized group.
  • Provide simple, accurate information about the event.
  • Provide fun activities to help relieve tension, e.g. working with Play-Doh, playing kickball, etc.
  • If your child lost a special toy in the incident, allow them to grieve the loss.

The Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board features valuable information on coping with tragedy and disaster online at

If you or someone you know has a need to talk with someone about coping with feelings about tragedy or disaster, terrorism, war or shootings, call the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board 24-Hour Emergency Mental Health Services at Woodburn Mental Health Center, 703-573-5679, TTY 703-207-7737.

Comprehensive lists are published on the Web sites of the American Psychological Association, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

For more emergency information, visit


For more news and information, visit

Fairfax County is committed to nondiscrimination on the basis of disability in all county programs, services and activities. To request this information in an alternate format, call the Office of Public Affairs at 703-324-3187, TTY 711.

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