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updated December 18, 2006

Disaster management: Staying balanced and helping kids cope

  • By planning, not panicking, you can be calm and confident during a crisis.
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( The more you plan for an extreme event, such as a flu pandemic, the more in control of your situation you're likely to feel. In addition to making plans for water, food and medical supplies, it's a good idea to plan how you want to respond emotionally.

Before a crisis

Imagine that you've just heard on the news that bird flu has reached pandemic proportions. What would you need to do? Start doing those things now. As a guide, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Am I prepared? Do you have a stockpile of food and medical supplies in case these become unavailable? Do you know what to do if your workplace closes?
  2. Is my family prepared? Have you reviewed disaster plans with your family? Plan how you will help young children understand what's going on or how you'll transport college students home in the event schools close.
  3. What key local resources can I draw on? Local and state public health and law enforcement agencies will likely be important sources of information on what's happening in your immediate area and what you should do. Find out how to get that information, whether on the radio, television or through a Web site.

Focusing on these three priorities now will help you stay organized and make your planning more efficient. Then if you hear that a pandemic — or any crisis — is developing, stay calm and fall back on your preparations. Prioritize what you need to do, and begin addressing the most important matters first.

During a crisis: Stay balanced

A pandemic flu outbreak or other disaster in your area is likely to take its toll for a few weeks, perhaps longer. It's normal to feel concerned and anxious about safety. Use these tips to help manage stress during a crisis:

  • Continue to focus on the facts. Stay informed. Follow official directions to protect yourself and your loved ones.
  • Keep your strength up. That means eating right, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep. Avoid drugs and alcohol.
  • Stay connected. It's possible that a flu outbreak will require that you and your family be quarantined for a time. But even if that's the case, you don't need to disconnect from the world. You can stay in contact with family, co-workers, friends and neighbors with e-mail, phone calls and text messaging.
  • Consider limiting news exposure. If a family member — especially a child — is overwhelmed by the news and feeling anxious, limit access to TV or radio. Use it on a "need-to-know" basis.
  • Distract yourself. Continue to enjoy pleasurable activities, such as listening to music, cooking a favorite meal, reading a good book or playing board games with your family.
  • Take time for relaxation. Find a quiet place to collect your thoughts and feelings. Try some relaxation exercises, such as yoga, tai chi, deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation. Encourage others to do the same.
  • Limit caffeine intake. Caffeine can add to feelings of anxiety and agitation.
During a crisis: Help your child cope

Children may feel confused and frightened by what's happening. Help them through a crisis with these activities.

  • Encourage the child to ask questions. Find out what, specifically, he or she is afraid of, and address those issues. Be ready to answer the same question several times, because once may not be enough. If you can't answer a question, it's OK to say so.
  • Talk at a level he or she can understand. Don't overwhelm your child with details. Keep your answers short and simple for young children.
  • Spend time with your child. Be physically affectionate. Reassure your child that you care and that you understand his or her concerns.
  • Keep regular schedules as much as possible. Regular playtimes, mealtimes and bedtimes can help a young child feel secure.
©1998-2008 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). Terms of use.

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