When I was about seven years old there was a house fire in my village. The village was built in a valley – with the main road at the bottom of the valley and the majority of houses on one slope of the valley, open fields and woodland on the other. The burning house was at the bottom of the valley and our house looked down on it.
I clearly remember waking in the night and going to my parent’s bedroom, where we watched in horror as the fire service fought the flames. We knew the elderly lady who lived in the house, it was a small village. I passed the house every day on my way to and from school and, on sunny days, she was often in the garden and would smile and wave. She didn’t survive the fire.
I remember the horror of that, for me, my family, my community. It stayed with me. Even at that young age I would sit at school and have sudden flashes of the old lady’s face, surrounded by flames, my imagination ran riot and I was so worried that it would happen to my house. I had nightmares in the following week and tears before bedtime. We should never underestimate what our children see, hear and worry about – even our very young children. Those thoughts and feelings can just grow and grow if they’re not addressed.
I’m not sure how long it was after, maybe just over a week or two (this is a LONG time ago!!) when my dad sat us all down and made everything better.
How? – he gave us a plan.
He had written downs some FIRE RULES by hand on a sheet of paper. I don’t remember all of them but I remember some: Turn off electrical appliances and pull out the plug at the socket before bed/no playing with matches/no electric blankets any more …
We helped hold the ladder while he fixed smoke alarms, we played an amazing game of being blindfolded and making our way (on all fours in case of smoke) downstairs to the back door (It became our favourite game). He told us about 999 calls and what to say. The best bit was the fire ladders. The two children’s bedrooms were on the fourth floor and my dad had bought two roll up fire ladders. We didn’t have much money and they were probably expensive, but he’d bought two. He fixed brackets to the walls under the window and we practiced how to fix them and roll the ladder out. Much to our dismay he wouldn’t let us practice climbing down on them and we were forbidden to use them, unless in an emergency.
I know that my parents did all this because they had been scared by the fire as much as I had (my brother and sister had slept through it and were younger than me and less affected) my parents were worried sick and they wanted us to be safe. But the plans, the talking about what to do, the equipment, all had another effect.
I stopped being scared, we all stopped being scared – my nightmares stopped – because we had a plan, we knew what to do
- a) to avoid a fire happening
- b) to call the alarm and get out safely.
Instead of walking past the burnt house and feeling a cold, scary wave of fright and anxiety – I would look at it and have a picture in my head of throwing the ladder out of the window and climbing to safety, of helping my brother and sister crawl down the stairs to an exit, of phoning 999 and asking for help.
- I Had A Plan.
- I Knew What To Do
- I Had The Equipment and Practice To Do It
It was one of the best life lessons I ever learned. If there is a possibly dangerous situation. If you’re worried, scared or anxious about something – talk about it and HAVE A PLAN.
It’s why I’ve written my book, and why I want it to reach as many parents and children as possible.
We can’t predict the future, we don’t know what kind of situations we will face. Life can change in a second.
But we CAN plan, we CAN start a conversation – an understanding, with our young children. We can, as parents, ease our own anxieties and make sure that we’ve done the best we can to make sure that our family stays SAFE and stays emotionally STRONG.
My book ‘How To Keep Safe … In a Sometimes Scary World’ starts that conversation, helps with information and is a lovely non-scary, engaging story of a boy and his family making plans together.
It’s out in March, but I’ll be pre-releasing books to people in my closed group ‘KEEP OUR KIDS SAFE & STRONG’. Come on over for more information and to join the discussion of how we can give our children a strong emotional resilience.