Explaining Bushfires to Kids
This summer we’ve witnessed the worst bushfire crisis on record. The consequences of Australia’s bushfire crisis have been catastrophic and it doesn’t look like the problem is going away anytime soon. Although we might not be able to prevent the bushfires, what we can do is make sure that we’re better prepared. In particular, it’s important to ensure that our children are prepared in the event of an emergency, and that parents know how to address the needs and concerns of their children in these times of crises.
Unfortunately, children are particularly vulnerable to the physical and psychological effects of the bushfire crisis, and their responses to the fires may vary. For example, some children might display outward reactions by yelling or fighting with their siblings, others might be curious and ask questions after seeing the extensive news coverage on television, and others yet might have more inwardly-focused responses resulting in them becoming withdrawn or quiet. But by having an open and empathetic conversation with your children, you’ll be able to assist them in understanding the situation and hopefully ease any worries they might have.
To help you approach this difficult topic, here are 7 tips on talking to your kids about the bushfire crisis:
1. Reassurance and Support is Key
If your child is upset or worried about the bushfires, the best thing you can do for them is to let them know that their concerns are valid, and that you are there to help them. By acknowledging their feelings, you can ease their concern and let them know that it’s okay to feel scared or upset. Importantly, you can also reassure them that everything is going to be okay.
2. Answer Questions Honestly
Children have a right to know what is happening in the world around them. Of course, it is also important that we don’t overwhelm children with more information than is necessary. By talking about the bushfires openly, you can also find out what your child knows about the crisis, and dispel any false or exaggerated thoughts that they might have. Children have creative and imaginary minds, so it’s possible that the reality is not as bad as they might think.
3. We’re Never Alone
It is important for children (and adults, for that matter!) to remember that we’re never alone in times of bushfire crises. To help children feel safe and supported during times of heightened anxiety, you can remind them that there are many people highly trained to deal with these matters, and that we are all fighting this issue together.
4. Focus on the Positive
It is also important to emphasise the positive actions that Australians have taken in response to the bushfire crisis. You could talk to your child about the volunteer firefighters helping to put out the fires, the overwhelming influx of international donations (including mittens for the burnt koalas!), or you could talk about helpful organisations such as Foodbank Australia and the Red Cross who are always there to help people affected by the fires.
5. Encourage Them to Help
Encouraging your child to get involved and help out can replace a feeling of helplessness with a sense of purpose and control. You could brainstorm ideas together with your child and decide to write a thank you letter to the firefighters, sell cupcakes or lemonade to raise money for those in need, or drop donations off at your local collection point.
6. Practice Your Evacuation Plan
If you do not have an evacuation or fire safety plan in place, it is important to create one (particularly if you live in a high-risk area). Practising the evacuation plan together with your child will ensure that they know what to do in case of an emergency. Depending on the age of the child, it might also be important to ensure that they can recite their full name, address, emergency contact numbers and any allergies or medical conditions they might have.
7. Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself
Taking care of others is much harder when we’re not doing well ourselves. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, be sure to reach out to friends and loved ones to ensure that you’re receiving the support you need as well.
For children of families who have been affected by the bushfires and who may need extra help during this period of recovery, you can contact:
Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800
NURSE-ON-CALL: 1300 60 60 24
Australian Psychological Society: 1800 33 34 97