What My Toddler Taught Me About Crisis Communications

Last week, my two-year-old daughter fell down our stairs – from the top. We didn’t see it happening. My wife was in our bedroom downstairs and I was in the kitchen when we heard her start tumbling down the 20 or so steps. She hit our hardwood floors as I came running around the corner to try and stop her from smacking her head on said hardwood floors.

A couple days later – after all the excitement had settled down – it occurred to me that there were some great reminders during that incident about how to manage a crisis, should the need arise.

Without a plan, you risk lacking thoughtful direction during a crisis. Maybe we should have created a few drills on what to do if one of our two daughters falls down the stairs, but we had never talked about it. When you don’t plan ahead, you go with your gut. Sometimes that’s good. Sometimes that’s really bad.

Assess the situation before you react. When my daughter hit the floor, she laid out flat on her back and started screaming. I immediately snatched her up to hold her and check on her. As soon as I picked her up, I thought, “what if she has a neck injury and I just made it worse?” After laying her back on the floor softly, I asked her to look left, right, down and up. In between screams, she did each with no trouble. So I stood her up and asked her to move her arms, hands, legs and feet, too. Everything was in working order.

Update affected stakeholders at appropriate, regular intervals as more information is learned. As I put my daughter in the car and headed to the ER, my wife stayed home with our 5-month-old girl. While waiting for a friend to arrive to watch our infant so she could meet me at the hospital, my wife called each grandparent and her two best friends to let them know what happened. During the rest of the night, she updated the grandparents every hour or so.

Monitor changes in the crisis and consider changing course. By the time we were in the car, my daughter had stopped crying. During the drive, she started telling me how to get to the ER. “You can go this way.” “Are we going by the park?” She was acting normal, talking normal and smiling. I thought if that’s how she acts when we walk into the hospital, we’ll be put last in line and six hours later they’ll tell me she’s fine.

Surround yourself with experts on the type of disaster you’re facing and trust their counsel. As we pulled into the parking lot, I called a friend who is an ER doctor to ask his opinion. He told me the three key things they look for in the case of falls and asked me several questions. His diagnosis was, “Go in if you’d like, but my recommendation would be to go to Wendy’s, get a Frosty, watch a movie together to keep her awake and call me back in two hours and let’s see how she’s doing then.”

So that’s what we did. Within 15 minutes of being home, she was crawling all over me and her mom. And when Madagascar got to the part where they dance to “I like to move it, move it,” she was dancing all over the living room. Besides a couple bumps and a bruise, she was perfectly fine.

Ok, so oil spills and teacher/student sex scandals are a tad different, but these fundamental nuggets can be applied to a lot of unforeseen crises that may pop up.

What other fundamental nuggets should PR people consider in the middle of a crisis?

*Image by Tom Saint.

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6 responses to “What My Toddler Taught Me About Crisis Communications

  1. I’m not ashamed to say two things.
    1. That’s a very brilliant way of looking at things. Granted there’s a bit more that could be worked into a crisis comm check list, but if folks stuck to just what you said then they’d do fairly well.
    2. Glad to hear your daughter is o.k.!

  2. 1. Thanks! Once you start blogging, its amazing how you start to see post ideas EVERYWHERE. 🙂

    2. Yeah! Me, too! It was pretty scary.

    When we were assessing the damage right after she fell, I asked, “where does it hurt?” She yelled, “All ovah mah bodieeeee!” We were like…oh, crap!

  3. Good advice, and an interesting take on the situation. (I’m the dad of a 6 year old and 4 year old, and I’ve had a falling-down-the-stairs moment myself…)

    Also, we miss you on Plurk.

  4. Paul – The falling down the stairs moment sucked, but it’s interesting to find out how many others have experienced it too. Good to know we’re not alone. 🙂

    Plurk! I need to spend more time there. I wasn’t spending much time and when I did, it would mostly be to pop in and share a new blog post. Felt like I wasn’t being a good citizen, so I stopped sharing blog posts until I spend more time there and share other things too. I need to get on that…

  5. This was brilliant…I can totally relate and am inspired.

    Being a mom of two BOYS is an interesting assignment:)

  6. Nice post, as the father of five 18 – 10 I’ve been down this road before. Your comments are right on the money with one addtional.

    I have also been in similar situations professionally having been a press secretary with presidential cabinet members, there is one item I’d answer to the question above is – keep a list of things you would change to prevent that crisis and other similar events from happening again. In the real world of crisis communications, as soon as the patient (crisis) is out of ER, the fingers start pointing about who is responsible and what will change.

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