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Health Tips for Parents

2008 Issues

How can I help my child cope with wildfires?


Children's reactions to wildfires and their aftermath are strongly influenced by how their parents, teachers and other caregivers cope during and after the events.

UCLA Health Tips for Parents: How can I help my child cope with wildfires?Common reactions include feelings of anxiety, fear and worry about their safety and that of others (including pets); fear of wildfires spreading; changes in behavior; increased physical complaints; changes in sleep and appetite; lack of interest in usual activities; regressive behaviors; changes in school performance; and increased chance of high-risk behaviors in adolescents.

Things I can do for my child

  • Be a role model. Modeling calm behaviors are important during chaotic times.
  • Encourage your children to get appropriate rest, exercise and diet.
  • Reassure children that they are safe, or that you have plans to ensure their safety.
  • Maintain routines. Children feel more safe and secure with structure and routine.
  • Maintain expectations. Stick with family rules.
  • Limit media exposure to protect from overexposure to wildfire images.
  • Calm worries about friends' safety. Let them know their parents will keep them safe also.
  • Talk about community response and recovery that will restore things to normal.
  • Encourage children to help. This could be helping to clean-up, followed by activities not related to wildfires.
  • Be patient. Children need extra patience and attention during stressful times.
  • Give support at bedtime. Children may become anxious being separated from their parents. It's okay to temporarily let them sleep with you, but understand that they will go back to normal sleeping arrangements at a set future date.
  • Monitor adult conversations. Children may misinterpret what they hear.
  • Seek professional help if children have difficulties for more than six weeks after the wildfires.
  • Keep hopeful. A positive and optimistic outlook helps children see the good in the world around them.

How can I help my child?

  • Spend time talking with your child. This will let your child know that it is OK to ask questions and to express their concerns.
  • Answer questions briefly and honestly. Also, ask your children for their opinions and ideas. For younger children, follow the discussion with a favorite story or family activity to help them feel more safe and calm. UCLA Health Tips for Parents: How can I help my child cope with wildfires?

Things I can do for myself

  • Take care of yourself. Eat, sleep, get exercise and proper medical care.
  • Listen to each other and provide support.
  • Put off major decisions.
  • Give yourself a break. Don't overdo clean-up activities so you reduce the chance of injury.

This information is provided by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, www.NCTSN.org

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