Supporting children through the bushfire emergency
We've seen an increase in questions and concerns from children around the bushfire situation. Educators have transformed concerns into opportunities for learning, discussion and activities supporting children through this uneasy time.
This year we have seen around 7,000 bushfires spread across New South Wales and burn through around two million hectares of land. This has had a devastating impact on families and communities. During this time, hundreds of schools and centres had to close, were evacuated or experienced disruptive changes to daily routines.
Many SDN centres have had to limit outside activities due to smoke and air quality issues. Educators have been able to transform an increase in questions and concerns from children into opportunities for learning, discussion and activities with them.
We’ve found some useful ways to support children through this uneasy time:
Discussing feelings, and emotional/physical responses
These experiences have allowed us to talk about feelings with children and to acknowledge that their worries, fears and anxieties are normal emotional responses. It has been healthy for them to hear our educators share their feelings too and to know that adults experience the same emotions. We have also been able to connect physical responses such as feeling sick in the stomach, headaches or trouble sleeping to our feelings and emotions.
Allowing them to ask questions and express emotions
We have found that after emergency situations, children tend to have a lot of worries and fears that may seem irrational to adults but are very real in their own minds. By giving them a safe space to ask any questions that they like and express their emotions openly has been very beneficial to their emotional well-being and resilience.
Being patient and understanding
It is important to recognise that at this time children may be more emotional and need extra support and reassurance. They may ask more questions, need more cuddles, require extra assistance in going to sleep or experience increased separation anxiety from family members.
Creating an action plan
The bushfire situation has provided further learning about fire danger, evacuation procedures, important safety steps and the role of emergency responders. Children at SDN have been empowered with practical information about the importance of evacuation plans. This has also opened the conversation about environmental issues and how we can all help to protect the environment and become more aware of climate change.
Developing empathy and finding practical solutions
Children have been able to develop their empathy at this time by thinking about the experiences of people directly affected by the fires. Through conversation, reading books and sharing good-news-stories, children have discovered that there are many practical ways in which you can help after a natural disaster.
Limit news coverage and heavy adult conversations
It’s empowering for children to know what is happening within their community, but we have found that too much footage or news related detail may not be age-appropriate and can cause unnecessary anxiety in young children. We recommend limiting news coverage and exposure to excessive adult conversations surrounding graphic details or disastrous information.