When I grew up on the 108 Ranch back in the 1970 and 1980s long before the days of the internet and cell phones, we lived in a big old house on a one acre lot with a large grassy field beyond, which stretched all the way down to the edge of a golf course and behind my elementary school.
Being an outdoorsy kid who was never too enthralled with TV or electronics, that field quickly became my playground and before long I knew every square inch of it like the back of my hand. I could tell you where wild strawberries grew fat and thick, the best spot at the pond for catching frogs and the shady spots for picnics. I caught butterflies, walked through the grass on the way to school, and skied there in the winter. Honestly, I don’t remember many toys from my childhood; instead, I remember that field.
One of the most vivid memories I have is of fire; summer daylight fading and watching bright orange flames slowly licking the dry, golden grass at the far edge of my field by the road. Firetrucks were there, along with men brandishing hoses, so at the time I trusted the adults that things were under control. To an eight year old, the spectacle was mesmerizing. Even at that young age I realized that the grass was especially dry, and if anyone in a passing car tossed a lit cigarette out the window, it wouldn’t take much to create an inferno so the burning was a kind of safety measure.
Over the last few days, I’ve watched in horror as wildfires have threatened to not only wipe out that very field, but my entire childhood hometown and all I can think of is the uncertainty I felt that day at the edge of my beloved field, watching the flames licking at the grass.
How do you talk to your kids when weather gets scary and threatens relatives’ homes or much loved places? It can be difficult to know where to start. Here are some suggestions:
1) Be honest.
One of the most important things I believe, as someone who works with kids, is that you are honest and matter of fact with them in a calm, age appropriate way. Children look to adults for reassurance that they are safe, so it is extremely important that when you speak to them, you are calm yourself. While a very small child won’t need a lot of detail unless the event directly affects them, older kids may hear things on the news or experience fire or earthquake drills at school and begin asking questions. In a world where we are so connected that everything feels like it’s happening right next door, we need to equip kids with information so they are aware, but not fearful.
2) Treat it as an opportunity to learn.
Events like wildfires can really be a teachable moment. Many kids don’t grow up outside like I did anymore — their frame of reference for weather comes from the news, or whatever disaster movie they happen to watch. However, when we equip them with real world science and knowledge, they understand what is happening around them more and their brains don’t go into anxiety overdrive. Getting some library books about forest fires-how they happen, that they are actually a natural part of the forest life cycle, and looking at maps to see where real fires are, can be really helpful. Not only does discussion help answer their questions and dispel myths, but in the process they can learn how to be responsible stewards of the environment.
3) Get them involved.
Another way to reassure your kids is to involve them in making an emergency or extreme weather kit. The kit doesn’t have to be extensive — even gathering the basics can be a tangible way to spark discussion and teach kids how to be prepared for active weather and power outages (this a great resource for this activity). Again, with knowledge comes power — and older children are more than capable of learning basic safety during storms or other events. While creating the kit, you can talk about why you might need certain things and you can encourage the kids to add an item like a coloring book, deck of cards, or puzzle they can do when the power is out. Tuck in some non perishable treats the kids would enjoy and the next time there is a storm, pull out the kit. You don’t need to wait until disaster strikes — getting them comfortable with using the kit will help make it a natural part of life, and not a big event when you actually need to use it. Along with a positive attitude, that kit can be one of your biggest helpers in managing their worries when weather gets a little wild.
You can’t change the weather, but you can teach your kids how to be resourceful, flexible, and resilient in the face of challenges. Mostly, kids just want to know that they are safe and that you’re there for them.
As I often have said to my own child when over the years we have faced winter storms, broken down cars, a tornado and power outages: “Well, it’s sure going to be an adventure! Just think of the story you’re going to have when it’s over.”
This post is part of The Whole Family Happiness Project, in partnership with Social Currents and the Low Carbon Economy Narrative Initiative. The Whole Family Happiness Project poses the question, “What is the connection between our individual purpose, our family happiness, and the happiness of the world around us?”
To learn more or get involved, visit Whole Family Happiness on Facebook.