Parent guidelines for helping children impacted by wildfires

SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. - As the Thomas Fire continues to burn slowly in Santa Barbara County, all evacuation orders have remained in place for days. This is not an easy time for many families forced to evacuate their homes.

Wildfires cause emotional distress as well as physical damage. Families could live in shelters for days without knowing if any loved ones survived, or if their homes and businesses were saved or lost. Children, in particular, can be vulnerable during trying times like these.

Santa Barbara County officials say children's reactions to wildfires and their aftermath are strongly influenced by how their parents, teachers, and other caregivers cope during and after the events.

Common reactions of children may include anxiety, fear, worry about safety, particularly of pets or other people. The County of Santa Barbara offers the following tips to help your child through traumatizing events like wildfires:

  • Spend time talking with your child. This will let your child know that it is OK to ask questions and to express their concerns. Because during and after wildfires includes constantly changing situations, children may have questions on more than one occasion. Issues may need to be discussed more than one time. You should remain flexible and open to answering repeated and new questions and providing clarifications.
  • If you have to evacuate suddenly, tell your child briefly where you are going and that you will answer their questions once you get to safety.
  • You should answer questions briefly and honestly, but also ask your children for their opinions and ideas about what is discussed.
  • For younger children, try to follow wildfire conversations with a favorite story or a family activity to help them feel more safe and calm.

More information about children, families, and wildfires can be found at the website of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network,

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