Talking to Kids about Wildfires

There have been some scary times around our Colorado Pi’ikea St. offices. A wildfire has flared up and within a few days come right into our city. Last night we saw on the news live video of homes burning down. It is a traumatic experience for everyone but it is especially important to be attuned to the feelings of the littlest among us who may not know how to deal with these kinds of situations yet. Here are some tips and resources about talking with kids about wildfires and traumatic events plus some videos of firefighters in action!

Above all it is most important to keep an open dialogue with children. Be ready and willing to talk about anything they want to talk about but do not force it. It is also important to be honest with children, they know when you make things up and they likely can deal with more than you think them capable of. Give them honest and true answers in a way they will understand it and validate their fears and concerns. Here is an excerpt from a great article on the subject:

How do you talk to young children about an ongoing disaster like this? Experts say to keep it simple and don’t make promises you can’t keep.

“The best thing in these types of situations, especially with younger kids, is to ask them if they have any questions,” said Seanna Crosbie, director of program services for the Austin Guidance Center. “A lot of times they have very specific questions that can be very simple to answer and allay most of their concerns. Otherwise you might wind up giving them more information than they need and raise their anxiety level.”

Be watchful for any changes in behavior that might signify anxiety: changes in sleep or eating patterns, fears about being separated or a fixation on safety concerns. Reassure them that they are OK. But if you have to evacuate, “don’t promise them that their house or their room will be fine. Do tell them that we are leaving in order to be safe and keeping everyone safe is the most important thing,” she said.

Austin family and child therapist Katie Malinski said that when it comes to media consumption, parents are the best judge of how much is too much.

“If possible, it is good to limit media exposure, especially for smaller kids who may not be able to process large amounts of information,” Malinski said.

If there is a risk that your home might be near a wildfire, share with kids concrete things the family can do to be safe.

“Say, ‘The city keeps a list of numbers and will call if the fire comes near,’ or talk about the family’s emergency plan. Some kids like to put their feelings into action. If they want to pack a bag, let them,” Malinski said.

Here are some more resources with great tips on how to talk to kids about wildfires and traumatic events:

And here’s something for the kids: Firefighters in action!