Managing With Children in a Disaster Scenario Children and a SHTF Scenario

It goes without saying that any SHTF event will be stressful and difficult for those involved. Sudden, extreme changes in environment, lifestyle, and outlook would be enough to throw anyone for a loop,

It goes without saying that any SHTF event will be stressful and difficult for those involved. Sudden, extreme changes in environment, lifestyle, and outlook would be enough to throw anyone for a loop, and even the best prepared preppers and survivalists might well find themselves battling disbelief, confusion, and even despair as new realities emerge in a post-SHTF world. As difficult as this new reality might be for adults to adapt and adjust to, the situation might well be even more confusing and stressful for children. All situations will vary, as will your responses to each situation. Have you lost power, or is all communication and services out? How long do you think the situation might last? Are you in physical danger? Is it a man-made or natural disaster? Is outside help available, and can you trust it? Will you bug in or bug out? The answers will vary, but the underlying theme of surviving and even prospering remains essentially the same.
Adults, in general accustomed to the responsibilities of earning a living and raising a family, will no doubt feel the additional stress of trying to accomplish these goals in a vastly different environment, with far fewer conveniences and amenities, and considerably less assurance of good outcomes. They will, however, have those familiar type tasks to help reduce anxiety, focus their attention, and keep their minds and hands busy in their determination to provide for those in their care. There will be a certain amount of comfort to be found even in generally mundane tasks such as serving a meal or collecting firewood when working with the knowledge that you are striving for the good of your family. Hard work and the satisfaction of knowing you are doing your best under difficult circumstances is important and rewarding in itself.
Children, on the other hand, thrown into a strange and unsettling situation, with limited ability to fully comprehend the events that occurred or the dangers they now face, may well feel completely adrift with the loss of routines, friends, and school which previously comprised so much of their lives. While adults try to adapt, and scramble to provide food, shelter, and protection, children may be left with overwhelming feelings of loss and emptiness with no sense of how to regain some balance, and too much time to fill.
There are some basic steps which can be taken though, which may help children to adjust to their new reality. The first, and most obvious step is to explain what has occurred, and what might be expected going forward, while at the same time providing as much reassurance and comfort as possible. Keep explanations simple and age appropriate, remembering that in stressful situations all communication must be scaled down and as clear as possible. While adults will want to hash things out and talk over all sorts off possible scenarios and outcomes, this would be too much information for most children to hear, especially younger children, so keep adult talk private, and try not to arouse more fear and anxiety. Children also may not be able to absorb everything at once, so keep it simple, be positive, and repeat as necessary.
Next, establish basic routines. Kids always fare better with structure and boundaries, and in a post-SHTF situation they will need them even more. The closer to their old routines the better, as children will likely be seeking security through familiarity. For example, establish regular times to get up and go to bed; continue before and after meal chores and tasks; and assign age-appropriate daily procedures to be followed or completed. Encourage older children to help younger ones, and emphasize the importance of all members of the family working together to achieve goals. Remember to thank them for tasks and chores well done. The children will need extra reassurance and support, and adults taking the time to recognize effort and skill involved and verbalize praise will go a long way towards restoring confidence.
Since play is an integral part of the learning process for children, they will need time and resources available for both independent and cooperative play. Depending on the nature of the SHTF event, there may need to be big changes in the type of play and toys involved. For example, older children who may be used to TV and video game time after school may now be without electricity to power their electronics. Younger children, used to interactive toys that light up and make sounds or music may also need some encouragement to experiement with alternate toys. Having a box with some basic non-electronic games and toys in your preps will be helpful to keep both young and old from boredom and provide needed distraction from anxiety. A deck of cards, a jump rope, a puzzle, simple board games like chess or checkers, and a set of dice will keep active minds and fingers busy. Outdoor games and sports will help relieve stress as well as promote physical strength and endurance. Enlist the kids help to plan and hold your own olympic-style event or design and set up an obstacle course.
Older children will be especially helpful in a game you might call, "How else can we do this..." Using creativity and logic, and finding teachable moments along the way, challenge teens and older children to find alternate and better ways to accomplish tasks. How many ways can you build a fire? Who can take a tarp and make the best shelter? How can you build a warning signal into your perimeter defense?
No one wants to have to go through a large scale disaster scenario, but with proper prepping and planning you can increase your odds of individual survival and even thrive as a family as you face the challenges and obstacles together.
Anne Schief, 2018
Sister to 4 brothers, mom of three, Nana to 5. Registered Nurse with a background in psychiatric and pediatric nursing.