Plan International Australia release bushfire guide for parents

By Jared Prestwidge

THE bushfire crisis across Australia is at the forefront of the public consciousness right now, but have you thought about how it may be affecting children?

Since the bushfire season began in August, children have watched on as more than 10 million hectares have burned.

Research from the Australian Catholic University has shown that between seven per cent and 45 per cent of children suffer depression, anxiety or distress after experiencing a natural disaster.

So, as Australians brace for another week of dangerous fire conditions, Plan International Australia recently launched a guide to help parents talk with their children about out-of-control fires and disasters.

The How to talk to your kids about out-of-control fires guide, co-authored by child psychologist Karen Young, is free and offers simple and practical tips on how to support children who may be distressed by fires, sirens and emergency personnel nearby or news reports on television about fires in Australia.

The guide offers key steps in how to approach these conversations with young people, such as:

  • Letting children know that what they are feeling is okay. Validating fears and feelings, but from a position of strength;
  • Reassuring children who express fear or anxiety, but answering questions honestly, with as much information as they need to feel safe;
  • Helping children understand they are not alone and reminding them that there is a community of emergency workers, charities and people around them doing good;
  • Talking to children about the importance of keeping up to date with weather and warnings and including children in family fire plans, making sure they know their vital information such as emergency contact numbers;
  • Encouraging children towards acts of kindness and equipping them with a sense of helpfulness rather than helplessness in an emergency

Plan International Australia director of advocacy Hayley Cull said this summer’s horrific bushfires could fuel anxiety, distress and even depression in young people and that it was critical parents acknowledged their feelings and provided reassurance.

“This summer’s unprecedented fires are a stark reminder that the climate emergency is upon us. Even for children who are not directly affected by this disaster, it can be very scary as rolling news coverage heightens anxiety,” she said.

“Children might respond in many different ways to news of the fires. They might feel scared, sad, confused or they might feel nothing at all. Let them know they aren’t alone, and that whatever they are feeling is completely understandable.

“Parents are best placed to allay anxieties and to provide the facts, as well as talking about hope for the future. But it can be hard to know where to start. That’s why our experts in child protection have created this guide. We hope it serves as a useful conversation starter and helps families to navigate these difficult times.”