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Taking Care of Yourself During Disasters: Info for Parents

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Children sense adults' fears and insecurity. Babies, toddlers, and young children don't understand disasters, but they do understand security. They seek that security in their parents. If we feel disjointed, confused, or traumatized, they feel insecure. We cannot be superhuman, but we need to take care of ourselves in these circumstances.

Remember, Put On Your Oxygen Mask First!

Think of a flight attendant who instructs us to put on an oxygen mask before putting one on our precious child. We can't take care of our child if we cannot breathe ourselves.

Disasters have the potential to affect the ability for parents to respond to their children's needs. For example, it can be challenging for parents displaced from their home after a storm to provide supportive parenting when they are worried about basic resources like food and shelter. How we respond, however, will affect how our children cope with the traumatic event.


In a major crisis, you'll be shaken, furious, and scared. Complex planning may not be possible. The first thing you should do is hug your family and remind yourself that they are OK. This will do wonders to calm you. Then address all of the basic needs related to housing, schooling, or medical care.

Preparing Yourself to Offer Support to Others

It is critical that you practice good self-care so you can offer the type of support and guidance your children need to recover emotionally. You can't be expected to be a calming force for your family or even to be able to listen while you remain in crisis mode or are wearing yourself thin. You will know you're ready to talk to your children when your adrenaline has run its course. Maybe you'll need to:

  • Exercise or scream it out of yourself.
  • Talk to someone to sort through your own emotions about the situation.
  • Reach out to service providers, like the American Red Cross, for help.

Then, when you can think more clearly, you can talk with your children in the calm, reassuring way that will help all of you regain your footing.

Additional Information:

Elyse C. Salek, MEd and Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MS Ed, FAAP
Last Updated
Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings, 3rd Edition (Copyright © 2015 Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MS Ed, FAAP, and Martha M. Jablow)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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