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How to help your children cope with disasters (when you’re feeling anxious, too)

Dr. Laurie Zelinger, child psychologist, recommends tapping into the 'PEARLS' of wisdom method.

How to help your children cope with disasters (when you’re feeling anxious, too)

It's a terrifying situation no parent wants to imagine, but the wildfire crisis in Australia can't be ignored. For mamas in the midst of a disaster like this one it can be hard to know what to do or say to help your children feel better.

A mama from Australia messaged us in the hopes of finding some tools to help her children cope with the anxiety. We know that kids are scared and parents are scared, too.

But we also know that in the face of that fear, we parents can empower ourselves to protect their children's sense of security and their mental health.

Dr. Laurie Zelinger is a child psychologist and author of Please Explain 'Anxiety' to Me: A Story for Children, PEARLS of Wisdom for Their Parents. She says that while it's natural for parents to feel anxious during events like disasters or after acts of terrorism, we should try to control our own anxiety before having a talk with our kids about theirs.

“Even if [you're] not comfortable, you have to do a couple of things to make yourself look more comfortable," she suggested in a previous interview with Motherly.“Talk much more slowly than you think you need to, and sit at your child's eye level."

That is exactly what mom of two Meaghan Wegg did when her family had to evacuate during their vacation and spend six days sheltering in a movie theatre, watching kids movies as the ash fell outside.

"It was super hard for me to keep calm but knowing my kids were there and needed my support definitely helped me focus on them. I had to keep them being kids to avoid the stress getting to them," she tells Motherly, explaining that her family usually lives in Montreal, Canada, but her husband, Tim, was born in Australia. They were visiting his home country this holiday season with their children, 3-year-old Georgia and 5-year-old Jackson and were staying at a popular campground when they were advised to leave and eventually ended up sheltering in a cinema with more than 100 others.

Intuitively, Meaghan ended up using some of the strategies Dr. Zelinger previously suggested to Motherly for parents dealing with anxious children during chaotic events outside their control: "Prepare, explain, answer, reassure, listen, safeguard."

"We played rock, paper, scissors over 100 times," Meaghan tells Motherly.

She has some advice for parents in Australia who may have to leave their homes: "Know your safety plan and exit plan if ever anything needed to urgently happen, and keep your focus on your kids' health. I became glued to them!"

Eventually, Meghan's family was rescued from the area and is now safe at her in-law's home outside of Melbourne, away from the fires.


If you are in Australia and the idea of talking about the wildfires with your kids has you frazzled, try using Dr. Zelinger's 'PEARLS' of wisdom method.

Dr. Zelinger suggests parents don't start heavy discussions right at bedtime. Instead, set aside an earlier time in the day to hang out with your kids and answer their questions.

P is for Prepare

Before discussing evacuation plans with your children, decided what you think they need to know and plan out how you're going to explain it at an age-appropriate level. They don't need every detail, but give them the broad strokes.

E is for Explain

If your child wants to know why the family must be prepared to evacuate, or why everyone keeps talking about fire, tell them, but keep it simple and on their level. “I would probably give them an explanation that was only two or three sentences and see if that satisfies them," says Laurie.

If it seems like your kid isn't getting what you're saying, as them to break it down for you. You cannot assume that what you say is understood unless you check, Dr. Zelinger explained.

A is for Answer

If your child asks the same question more than once, try to use the same explanation each time you respond. “You're usually better off using the same answer you used before so the child realizes there is certainty in it," Dr. Zelinger says.

R is for Reassure

According to Dr, Zelinger, one of the best things parents can do for a child who is anxious about an event outside their control is simply reassure them that the grownups are doing their best to keep them safe.

Don't make guarantees, but remind them that there is more good in the world than bad.

L is for Listen

“Just let your kids talk," says Dr. Zelinger. Take some mental notes while they go on. The things they keep repeating are the issues they're confused about and that you can clarify later. Be mindful of the areas that they're avoiding too because maybe you need to fill in an important detail that they've totally missed.

S is for Safeguard

If your child is worried that they will lose their home or be hurt, take a moment to talk about all the things their community is doing to prevent that from happening. Make sure we're reminding the children of all the safeguards in place to protect them," says Laurie.

Unfortunately, parents can't guarantee that homes and schools will not be lost. But you can guarantee your children that you will always be there to listen to them, and that you will do your very best to keep them safe.

[A version of this post was published February 6, 2018. It has been updated.]

We're so glad to live in a time when modern baby gear exists. Sure, no one is going to argue that having a baby is easy—but it can be easier with support from some gadgets designed to help your baby and put your mind at ease.

As you build your baby registry, look for products that go the extra mile to make your life a whole lot easier. For example, what's better than a bassinet? A bassinet that can rock by itself. And what's better than a traditional baby monitor? One that allows you to actually take a peek at your baby. Believe us when we say these upgrades can make all the difference.

Here are 10 baby gadgets that will make your life so much easier… relatively speaking, of course!


A bassinet to promote safe + sound sleep

HALO Innovations Bassinest Swivel Sleeper Essenta Series Nautical Net

The safest place for your newborn to sleep is in your room, but not in your bed. Thanks to the swivel function of the Halo Bassinest, you can easily tend to your baby during the night—which means more sleep for you, too. Trust us when we say that is the best gift you can give a new parent.

$239.99

A smart swing for your baby

4moms mamaRoo 4 Bluetooth Enabled High-Tech Baby Swing - Classic

Believe it or not, many babies are born with strong opinions about how they want to be rocked, swung or shushed to calm down. With the mamaRoo's various motions and reclining positions, you'll be able to find a setting your baby loves when you need to free up your hands for a bit.

$219.99

A complete travel system for car + sidewalk

Chicco Bravo Travel System - Indigo

No matter where the day takes you—or what mode of transportation you need to get there—getting a complete travel system for your baby will equip you for anything.

$379.99

A swaddle you don’t have to wrestle

Love To Dream Swaddle UP Original

What do babies and Harry Houdini have in common? A knack for breaking out of tight constraints—which can be a headache when swaddling is the best way to help promote good sleep. Thanks to a breakout-proof swaddle that allows your baby to sleep with their hands up, you don't have to work up a sweat just to get your baby comfortably swaddled.

$29.99

A nursery wherever you need it

Baby Trend Lil Snooze Deluxe II Nursery Center

During the early days of parenting (when you are feeding and changing your baby around the clock), having convenient access to everything you need with a go-anywhere nursery station can save you serious time and energy.

$99.99

A little help for stuffy noses

Fridababy NoseFrida Nasal Aspirator

Up until the point years down the road when your child is able to blow their own nose, the sniffles can be a real struggle—but not with a nasal aspirator that makes it easy for you to get that snot out of their nose.

$15.99

A way to keep an eye on your baby

VTech 5" Digital Video Baby Monitor - VM5251

Trust us when we say you'll sleep better when you know your baby is also sleeping soundly. That's why we're so thankful for modern-day video monitors, which allow you to check in on your sleeping baby without running the risk of waking them up when you sneak in for a peek.

$79.99

A bassinet for hands-free rocking

Simmons Kids Silent Auto Gliding Elite Bassinet - Odyssey

Babies are soothed by rocking motions. But what does that mean for you if you can't rock them throughout the night? With an auto-gliding bassinet, they can comfortably drift off to sleep... and continue snoozing.

$99.99

An easy way to contain diaper smells

Diaper Genie Expressions Pail

Sometimes it's the little conveniences that make a big difference in the quality of your day-to-day life. That's why a great diaper pail should not be undervalued: By containing the smell, you will save yourself dozens upon dozens of trips to the garbage can.

$24.99

A white noise machine that pulls double duty

Hatch Rest Sound Machine, Night Light & Time-to-Rise

A phone-controlled sound machine may be something you never considered until now, but it will be a major lifesaver for years to come, especially as it can also function as a time-to-rise clock that promotes good sleep habits for your child.

$59.99

And as for securing all these awesome products? Well, a Target baby registry is the way to do it. By creating your baby registry with Target, you will also enjoy their Year of Benefits registry program, which includes perks like a welcome kit with more than $100 in savings and samples, two 15% off coupons to complete your registry, and a full year of returns. The benefits are better than ever right now: Target just launched the Year of Exclusive Deals perk as one of its registry benefits, and this includes a year's worth of discounts on baby essentials (think diapers and formula) and comes complementary when you sign up for Target Circle.

Because while parenting may not be "easy," deciding to register with Target definitely is an easy decision. Start your Target baby registry now and enjoy shopping with a Year of Benefits featuring a Year of Exclusive Deals available via Target Circle, two 15% off coupons, a year of hassle-free returns, a free welcome kit and more!

This article was sponsored by Target. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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