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Red Cross Curriculum Helps Young People Cope with Tragic Events
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Katie Lawson
October 6, 2006

With a number of school shootings currently making headlines, including the most recent incidents in Lancaster, Pa., and Weston, Wis., it is natural for children and parents to be dealing with a mixture of emotions such as fear and anxiety of the unknown.

The American Red Cross Masters of Disaster® Curriculum entitled "Facing Fear" offers lesson plans for educators to help them speak with their students about emotionally-charged events, including natural disasters and human-caused tragedies. Whether it is a home fire, a hurricane or an act of terrorism, it is important for young people to be reassured that fear is a natural and normal reaction to such events and recognize that others are experiencing similar feelings. While parents and teachers cannot shield children from personal or community tragedies, this Red Cross educational program helps students address their fears and move beyond them.

The "Facing Fear" curriculum includes a variety of activities for students to review and complete with a family member at home. Activities, such as building a family disaster supplies kit together, can help young people overcome fear and feel prepared in the event of an emergency. (Photo Credit: American Red Cross)

The Red Cross Masters of Disaster program was developed to provide lesson plans to integrate life-saving disaster preparedness with the academic studies of students grades K-8. This curriculum consists of safety lessons and activities related to earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, lightning, floods and general disaster preparedness. “Facing Fear” was created, following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, as a supplement to the Masters of Disaster program to provide a positive outlet for students to express themselves.

“The ‘Facing Fear’ lessons give students an opportunity to talk about frightening events that they may hear or see reported in the media,” said American Red Cross preparedness expert Heidi Taylor. “The curriculum also helps educators to assist young people in becoming critical viewers of the media—to gather facts and to distinguish facts from opinions.”

Anyone who works with children may use lessons from the program, which includes take home activities for children and parents to complete together. With a flexible curriculum that was written collectively by experts in education, mental health and disaster preparedness, "Facing Fear" also helps children and families learn how to prepare for a variety of disasters, which experts say can be empowering in emergency situations that can leave people feeling helpless.

“The curriculum provides proactive ways for schools and families to plan ahead,” said Taylor. “By learning and practicing evacuation drills, the importance of preparedness is emphasized to encourage safety at home as well as in schools.”

“Facing Fear,” available in four complete sets for teachers of grades K through 2, 3-5, 6-8 and 9-12, is a tool that provides positive actions that can be taken following a traumatic event to help children recover more quickly and more completely. The lessons in "Facing Fear” cover a wide range of topics that are arranged in three chapters: “Feelings,” “Facts and Perspectives” and “Future.” These chapters deal with immediate feelings following a tragic event, how to be media savvy and positive ways to approach the future. The lesson plans can be used in any order and include hands-on, student and family-oriented activities that engage young people and offer families comfort, knowledge and disaster preparedness skills.

Tips for Parents and Teachers

Disasters may strike quickly and without warning. These events can be frightening for adults, but they are traumatic for children if they don't know what to do or how to react. Young people may become anxious, confused or frightened following tragic events. The Red Cross recommends these helpful tips to give children guidance that will help them reduce their fears.

  • Get away from the stress of the disaster, if you can. Limit your child’s exposure to media coverage while calmly and firmly explaining the situation.
  • Encourage children to talk. Let children talk about the disaster and ask as many questions as they want. Always encourage young people to describe what they are feeling and listen to what they say.
  • Contact your local emergency management office or your local Red Cross chapter for material that describe how your family can create a disaster plan. Children will find comfort in preparing for emergencies.
  • Include children in recovery activities. Give children chores that are their responsibility. Having a task will help them understand that everything will be all right.
  • Spend time together as a family. This will give children a sense of stability and assurance.

For more information on the complete Masters of Disaster program and “Facing Fear” supplement, contact your local Red Cross chapter. Masters of Disaster materials are available through the organization’s public Web site, Redcross.org.

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