How to Prepare Mentally Ill Children for Natural Disasters

January 9, 2018 Susan Traugh

Preparing mentally ill children for natural disasters by giving them a sense of control calms their fear. Here's how to help your children prepare for disaster.

Preparing your mentally ill children for natural disasters is vitally important. Knowing what kinds of natural disasters are expected in your area and preparing a plan to deal with a crisis will provide a sense of control and safety to children with mental illness during a natural disaster.

Know What Kinds of Natural Disasters You Face

Natural disasters come in all shapes and sizes. Blizzards, floods, hurricanes, wildfires, tsunamis, and tornadoes are just some of the disasters that could strike your area. For some disasters, like hurricanes and blizzards, parents might have lots of warning of impending danger. For others, like earthquakes, trouble might strike in an instant. Yet, preparedness is still possible if you understand the risks of your area.

By knowing the kinds of disasters that you may have to confront, parents can begin to put together a disaster plan that takes into account their child’s mental health needs.

A Plan Prepares Mentally Ill Children for a Natural Disaster

We were in the path of the wildfires burning Southern California last month. My daughter called me from the road scared and beginning to panic. She’d been detoured off her usual route home and feared she couldn’t get to us. “What’s the plan?” she screamed over the phone, and I knew that in just a few moments my daughter’s severe anxiety might take over and derail any attempts she was making to get home.

But, I had a plan. And so did she. Because we’d always lived in California, evacuating fires became a too-regular part of life and over the years we’d created an excellent plan to deal with fires and another for use after an earthquake.

I reminded my daughter where she was to go if she couldn’t get home. We talked about the checklist on her computer regarding what to pack and how to ready herself when she did get home. I reminded her how we’d contact each other and where we planned to rendezvous. And she calmed right down.

By knowing that she had some control over her situation, my daughter was empowered to take care of herself and her needs. As a young adult, she has much control over her disaster plan, but even as a small child, my kids knew how to prepare for natural disasters.

Tools to Help Mentally Ill Children Cope with Natural Disasters

Create a Treasure Box

When my kids were very young, when fire threatened, I’d hand them a small plastic box (one size up from the shoe box) to fill with their most precious items. My kids all knew that they needed to fill the box, get a pillow and blanket, and find a plushie or toy to comfort themselves.

Make a Checklist

As they got older, I created a checklist for each child. It included three days’ clothes, pajamas, shoes, swimsuits (in case we landed well), toothbrushes, toothpaste, a hairbrush, and accessories. (It also included the same box and comfort items they took as little kids.) Each child kept a backpack under her bed to pack and knew they had to bring me the checked-off list when they were done.

Design a Safety Plan

Now, with my kids mostly independent, we’ve discussed safe escape routes in case of fire or earthquake, rendezvous spots, and out-of-state relatives to call and check in with if we can’t get to one another.

Keep Medications Handy

We keep medication in a week-at-a-glance box that we can grab and go in case we have to run for safety. Each family member has all their meds and dosages, along with the prescription numbers on their phones. They’ve also included the names, addresses, and phone numbers of all their doctors so they can access them from any location.

Control Provides Comfort in a Natural Disaster for a Mentally Ill Child

One of the biggest stressors about a natural disaster is feeling out of control. By giving children with mental illness a clear plan and set of tasks, you can provide them with a sense of control and purpose in protecting their own lives. Additionally, the pride in fending for themselves empowers kids at a time when they can feel powerless and focuses their energy on productive actions rather than fear.

APA Reference
Traugh, S. (2018, January 9). How to Prepare Mentally Ill Children for Natural Disasters, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 29 from

Author: Susan Traugh

Find Susan on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and on her blog.

Leave a reply