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3 tips for talking to kids about emergencies and natural disasters




A photo tweeted Wednesday, June 22, 2016 by South Coast AQMD of the San Gabriel Complex Fire.
A photo tweeted Wednesday, June 22, 2016 by South Coast AQMD of the San Gabriel Complex Fire.
South Coast AQMD

Californians are no strangers to earthquakes or wildfires, such as the Erskine Fire, which has already burned at least 80 homes in Kern County. These events can be scary for kids, and complicated for parents to explain.

But thanks to UCLA, there's now an app for that. It's called Help Kids Cope, and it offers parents advice and resources for all kinds of natural disasters and emergencies. It's free and available now in the iTunes app store. An Android version will be available July 15.

Melissa Brymer is a psychologist specializing in trauma at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA. She helped develop the app, and she shared these tips for talking to kids about emergency situations:

1. Be honest

"The words will be slightly different depending on the age of the child," Brymer said. But it's key to let your kids know you're monitoring what's happening. "You can even use some of the words that you might be seeing as you get some of the alerts," she said. If you're not in a mandatory evacuation situation at the moment, tell your kids to be ready. You should also explain that in the meantime, they may see things like smoke from a fire, but that does not mean there is immediate danger. "Explain what's going on in that area, and that we will be told where to evacuate and when to evacuate if there is a need."

2. Let the kids ask the questions. 

"Many times, I follow the lead of the child," Brymer said. She said smaller children, in particular, can't handle a lot of information all at once. You should still give kids basic information about what's happening, "but you don't want to give a lot of detail, unless your child can handle it." Take a break from the conversation if you need to, and pick it back up again when the child is ready.

3. Take care of yourself

This is key, Brymer said, because parents can't take care of their kids unless they take care of themselves, too. If you're in a situation where you've been separated from a child, don't show that anxiety to your other children. Have a moment to yourself instead, Brymer suggested. You should also check in with your employer to determine if work will take place. "Sometimes you might want to have those conversations by yourself so that you can react and take care of yourself before you have to be a parent, and then talk to your kids and answer their questions," she said.