You see them on the news…
Far away, in some other city or country, you read about a crisis happening or view it through a comfortable lens on TV, but somehow it doesn’t quite connect. It doesn’t hit home.
Until you experience a situation that puts it all into perspective.
On a recent weekend, I was out shopping with my sister-in-law and two young daughters. We were having a great day taking in the sights and sounds of a busy Saturday and found ourselves checking out new spring clothing for kids.
That’s when we heard it.
A panic-stricken voice, running into the particular store we were visiting and saying, ‘Everyone has to get out! They are evacuating the building!’
Quickly, my sister-in-law and I put down our items, secured both children and ran out of the mall with the masses.
Safely through the doors and across the parking lot, we watched emergency personnel surround the building and instruct patrons what to do next. Everyone who was inside the mall had evacuated as quickly as they could, so hundreds of people walked all around the parking lot trying to find their cars.
We walked through rows and rows of cars, nervously laughing, talking about what a crazy story it would be and wondered as to what the emergency was.
Then we walked by them.
Visibly upset, a very shaken child clung to her guardian who ushered her across the parking lot. I could hear him say to her, “Stop it! Calm down! You're strong and I’m an adult, now cut it out!’
I winced. While we all deal with these situations differently, I couldn’t help but wonder what the better approach would be when addressing an emergency situation to a child.
I got a chance to talk with Tina Almeida, Licensed Professional Counselor and Registered Play Therapist for Kids, with Aquia Counseling and Therapy and asked her to share her expert tips on the best way to not only calm a child in this situation, but how to address the reason for the situation itself. She expressed the following:
1) The parent or guardian must stay calm.
2) Be honest, but do not share the details.
For example, you can tell a child someone threatened the safety of the people in the building, but explain that it is the reason for the evacuation – a precaution to make sure no one is harmed. Don't shelter them, but bring it back around to the positive.
3) Emphasize that first responders are our friends and are at the scene to help keep everyone safe.
4) Get on your child’s level, make eye contact and remind them to breathe. Assure them you are going to be okay.
5) Don’t underestimate the power of physical touch. A hug and secure embrace makes them feel protected.
While emergency situations can lend themselves to worry and stress, it is important to remember kids look to us to set the tone in those type of scenarios. How we respond can greatly impact how they respond. It is our job as parents and guardians to bring comfort and love to our children and those around us, not additional hostility.