In the past month we have witnessed horrific earthquakes and their aftermath in both New Zealand and Japan. This has led to an increase in anxiety for many and as bad as it is for adults, children too are left trying to cope with what they have heard and seen. With experts suggesting that Israel will soon experience a very extensive quake, one child recently told me that he has started to “worry that I too will some day be buried alive beneath the rubble.”
Anxiety can be crippling. Lack of predictability and the ability to plan lead to a feeling of loss of control, helplessness, and in extreme cases, a sense of hopelessness.
Generalized anxiety comes from simply not knowing where or when the next surprise will be.
While you may not think to prepare ahead for an emergency, you may someday find yourself responding to one. Given the option to sit back and wait for the next “event” to occur, the preferred alternative is to proactively protect yourself and your family. In other words, while not being able to plan the “when,” you can certainly work toward a “plan” for now and for the future, by being as prepared as possible yourselves, and in turn helping your children. What you do today, can help prepare you both physically and emotionally for tomorrow.
Here are a few suggestions: Acknowledge your own feelings. If you are feeling anxious, unsettled, or overwhelmed yourself right now, it is important to acknowledge that your feelings are completely normal.
If you are worried or feeling vulnerable, it is okay to admit it, notice that you are not alone and then – move on. Pick a 15 minute period during the week when you can think about your anxiety but otherwise keep busy, distracted and remind yourself, not “now.” Staying stuck with your anxiety won’t feel good and certainly won’t help you or your loved ones. While you may feel anxious, don’t lose sight of the fact that you have been and will continue to cope – both for yourself and for your family. One of the best ways to cope is by being prepared, both in terms of the physical logistics and your own psychological well-being. This is an excellent message to pass on to your children.
Get informed. Access reliable information so that you know just what to do in the event of an emergency.
Check out the guidelines offered through the IDF Home Front Command
(www.oref.org.il) and heed their suggestions. For instance, evaluate the
structural integrity of your home, your child’s school or day care and
decide what can you do to improve things. Remember, your child may not
actually be at home were something to happen. Are bookshelves and
cabinets securely attached to the walls and heavy objects kept as low as
possible? Studies have shown that the major damage in an earthquake is
not from the earthquake itself but rather the aftermath of one.
Determine your own personalized emergency action plan (PEAP).
ASIDE FROM checking out the guidelines offered by the IDF, do a “fun”
walk through your home and a tour of your neighborhood with your family.
Walk around the house and show your children where specifically and in
general are the best places to be should something happen.
Check out corners, under tables, doorways, safe rooms and even where to
go outside of the house – be it the middle of the street or the park
nearby. Play hide and seek in these areas, make colorful maps for kids
to color, teach children how to cover their heads from potential debris,
simulate movement of an earthquake and create scavenger hunts in the
important areas, along with a game of “I spy or something else fun in
the mamad (safe room) or stairwell as you all stand like soldiers with
your hands on your head.
Once you have done this, practice how to actually respond in an
emergency. Repetitive drills enable you to respond by rote and ensure
that you (and your body) will “know” what to do in a crisis. If you know
what to do and you do it more or less automatically, there is less
chance that you will panic and more chance to do the right thing without
As you may be without light, telephones or an elevator, this means not
just knowing that there are a lot of steps to the exit, but actually
having walked down 46 steps with your hand on the wall and with your
eyes closed to simulate darkness. It may seem foolish to you now, and
you may not want to spend the time on it today, but it is precisely this
type of practice that may save your life tomorrow. These seemingly
silly activities reduce fear, build confidence and enable a more rapid
response for your children. In a real emergency, every minute counts.
Prepare by preparing. What supplies should you have on hand assuming you
may be on your own without any community support for two to three days?
Check this out on the Internet with your children and have them help
you put supplies in a bag and place them where everyone can access them
Are there specific things such as medications, diapers or glasses that
you might also want to include? Is there a special extra teddy or
blanket that should come along? Prepare a list of emergency phone
numbers and ensure everyone knows where they are. Make sure you include a
friend or family member who lives outside of your area who everyone can
contact if need be.
Remember though that phone lines may not work and kids may need to play
“old-fashioned relay” – passing messages along through others. Decide
also on two places near home where your entire family can assemble. One
might be in a safe spot in front of your home and another in a near by
Children often have access to media that as a parent you may be unaware
of. As a result they may know far more than you think. It is important
to realize that visual exposure, while at times helpful, may also be
quite upsetting. Often the same photos are replayed again and again but
children may think these are separate incidents. Blood and gore may be
very frightening to a child. Children can go from being intensely
concerned by details to nonchalantly playing with a friend in a short
span of time. This is completely normal but does not mean a child is not
Talk with your children. Give children plenty of opportunities to ask
questions and try and understand just what their concerns might be.
Often what we as adults worry about are not their concerns at all and
vice versa. Some children may prefer to draw rather than talk. That is
Make the information developmentally and age appropriate. Typically,
children do best with simple and straightforward explanations and not a
lot of unnecessary details. While it is important to be honest and
upfront, it serves no purpose to overwhelm your child with too much
information or share your fears.
You may be feeling tense but they don’t have to. It is important to
choose your words carefully to ensure that you get the message across
that you hope to convey.
When listening to their questions, you may need to probe deeper to find
out what they are really asking, or maybe, it is only you, and not they,
that see deeper issues. It is important to clear up any inaccuracies
that your children may have as this confusion may only complicate their
understanding of events.
Not being able to predict can be especially difficult for both adults
and children and this fear of the unknown, while normal, can be quite
Let children know that you are there to protect them. When you can’t be
around remind your children that there are other responsible adults such
as teachers or siblings who may be with them. If you do get separated
for even a short period of time, let your child know that you will be
looking for him. Children who do have fears may be more anxious about
separation from you, have a harder time with bedtime, be afraid of loud
noises such as thunder or airplanes and may at times appear to regress
in their behavior.
Teach your children how to relax. Practice relaxation exercises,
breathing and guided imagery, distraction, meditation or prayer to
enable everyone to feel calm. Young children do well when they can
pretend to be limp spaghetti noodles and older children like to pretend
that they are lying on a nice beach or floating on a lake or cloud.
Having a response that is calming is the perfect antidote to anxiety.
Be aware that how you cope will directly impact how they cope. If you
cope well, your children will also cope well. Children need to see you
as an effective role model. The more prepared and informed you are, the
calmer and more confidently you will respond and the less vulnerable
everyone will feel.
The difference between an emergency and a disaster depends primarily on
your ability to cope. By expecting the unexpected and planning for it,
you’ll know just what to do, feel more in control, and resume enjoyable
activities more quickly.The writer is a columnist in the
Magazine section of The Jerusalem Post. She is a licensed clinical
psychologist in private practice in Ra’anana. For more information,
please view her website at www.drbatyabatyaludman.com or contact her at