Teaching Kids to Prepare for Disasters
As parents, it is our job to protect our children. But, this also means teaching them to protect themselves. While we hope our children will never have to protect themselves in the event of a natural disaster or an emergency, it is still beneficial to teach kids to prepare for disasters.
In fact, teaching kids disaster preparation has saved lives! The 'miracle of Kamaishi' is a perfect example of how teaching kids to prepare for disasters makes a big difference when disaster events occur. When a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck the city, the schoolchildren knew to run to higher ground and protect one another.
The Government of Japan explains, “As they continued to run, older students supported the younger school children, and together they reached a safe location while behind them the mega-tsunami swallowed their schools and the town. The city lost more than 1,000 lives to the disasters, but only five of them were school-age children, and they weren't at school when the quake hit.”
With that being said, emergency preparedness can be difficult even for adults. That’s why we have prepared this month’s newsletter specifically for parents with young children in mind. Again, we hope your family never faces a disaster, but we hope you will use this information and these tools to teach your kids to prepare for an emergency.
How to Talk to Kids About Potential Disasters
When it comes to talking to your kids about potential disasters, the main thing you want to avoid is terrifying them. Of course, disasters are scary, and kids understand dangerous situations. Instead of focusing on the potential horrors of disasters, think of emergency preparedness for kids as a means of empowering them.
The way you handle emergency preparedness discussions with your kids will vary greatly depending on their age. Overall, you want to explain to your children that the idea of preparing for disasters in advance is a way to keep everyone in your family safe.
You should also allow your kids to ask questions and try to answer them as calmly and honestly as possible. The Los Angeles Times explains, “They might also ask questions that parents don’t want to answer. But parents shouldn’t ignore or dismiss those questions. ‘They’re very smart and they’re very intuitive and they know when something is going on,’ [director of behavioral health at the Petaluma Health Center] MacLeamy said.”
Explaining the Different Types of Disasters to Kids
Next, it is important to talk to your kids about the different types of disaster situations since they may require different types of emergency preparedness. Again, this discussion will vary depending on where you live. For example, families in earthquake zones should spend time discussing earthquake risks and preparation while families facing blizzard conditions will have entirely different conversations.
Ultimately, kids should know your family’s emergency plan for the following types of disaster events:
Tornadoes and Extreme Storms
Blizzard and Winter Weather
Ready.gov Kids has an entire collection dedicated to providing facts about these different types of disasters, as well as what kids should do before, during, and after these events, so take time to review the potential disasters for your area with your kids.
For some families, this may be as simple as explaining what these types of disasters are and what to do if one is a threat. For other families with older children, this may involve giving kids a specific role to play in the emergency plan.
Emergency Preparedness Basics Every Kid Should Know
Since the ages of children is a wide range, let’s focus on the emergency preparedness basics every kid should know. For example, from the time they are speaking, begin teaching them to say their first and last name. Along these same lines, your child should also know your first and last name (if different). If separated during an emergency, this is critical!
Kids should also memorize their home address and phone number as early as possible. Many schools have this as a kindergarten learning standard. Make it a game and have them practice it often.
Kids should also be taught how and when to call 9-1-1. Sesame Street recommends, “Explain that 9-1-1 is a special number to call when help is needed during an emergency and there is no other person to help. Pretend by asking questions such as ‘9-1-1, what’s your emergency?’ and ‘What’s your address?’”
Parents should also teach kids who “the helpers” are, such as firefighters and police, as well as neighbors in your trusted circle.
Teach your children about different siren sounds. For example, kids should know how to distinguish between an ambulance siren and a tornado siren.
Finally, when your kids are old enough, parents should explain who an emergency contact is (and who isn’t), and they should talk to kids about where to go in the event of an emergency. In a family emergency plan, this is often referred to as the family meeting place.
Give Kids a Special Role in Emergency Prep
In addition to discussing your family emergency plan, which includes who to call and where to meet, a key part of preparing for disasters is packing an emergency kit. In addition to giving your child a sense of pride and independence when he or she masters your phone number and address, allowing your child to help pack the family emergency kit goes a long way in making them feel safe.
In addition to Waterfull’s emergency kit checklists, you may find your children want (or need) to include a few security items to feel safe. Not only will they feel better knowing they have some comfort items in the emergency kit, but they will also feel relieved to help pack your disaster supplies, like food and first aid items. Plus, an added benefit of owning a Waterfull Barrel will provide your kids with a sense of security, knowing your family will have safe water to drink.
Useful Tools to Teach Kids to Prepare for Disasters
Fortunately, there are a ton of valuable resources for parents and caregivers to use to make teaching kids prepare for disasters, both easy and fun! Choose from the following depending on the ages of your children:
The CDC’s Ready Wrigley Checklists (backpack emergency cards, a family emergency plan for kids, kids emergency kit)
The CDC’s Ready Wrigley Books (covering a variety of emergency preparedness topics)
FEMA’s Youth Emergency Preparedness Curriculum for various grade levels (elementary-high school)
Sesame Street Emergency Preparation with videos, resource guides, and more
Practice Emergency Preparedness at Home
Ultimately, the best way to teach your kids to prepare for disasters is to practice emergency preparedness at home. Again, you don’t want to do this in a way that makes your kids fearful. Instead, by making emergency preparedness a natural part of your home life, your kids will feel more confident and secure.
For example, in addition to discussing your emergency plan and sorting your emergency kit with your kids regularly, you should also practice drills on occasion. Your kids should be able to identify your home’s escape routes, as well as talk through the steps they would take in the event of an emergency.
How Kids Can Help After a Disaster
Sometimes we don’t give kids enough credit. Not only are kids resilient in the face of disasters, but they are also some of the most big-hearted helpers. That’s why it is not surprising to hear about kids rising to help others after disaster events.
Stephanie Mihalas, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and founder of the Center for Well-Being: Psychological Services for Children, Youth, and Families, explains for Parents, “Children often feel empowered and have mastery over a situation like a disaster if they are able to become involved in the healing process. Volunteering or donating can make the process more concrete -- they can actually see the situation getting better.”
So, encourage your kids to organize a food or clothing drive, or let them set up a lemonade stand with the proceeds going to help the victims. And don’t forget about the animals! Your child may find great joy in donating much-needed supplies to a local animal shelter after a disaster.
The Waterfull Barrel - So easy, even kids can use it!
The Waterfull Barrel was designed with ease in mind. It is emergency home water storage made easy – easy enough for kids to work if needed!
(Photo from Parents: Emmett Family Whose Son Alerted 911)
Fun and Games: Check out the many apps and games designed to teach kids emergency preparedness
Teaching kids to prepare for a disaster should not feel like a chore. There are plenty of ways to teach kids how to prepare for disasters. Check out this list of the many fun ways kids can learn emergency preparedness!
Have kids participate in a disaster supply relay race.
Host a fun prep rally with songs, games, and activities. Save the Children has already designed the whole prep rally for you!
Pull ideas from the book, Playful Preparedness: Prepare Your Children--For Life: 26 Games for Teaching Situational Awareness, Prepping, Emergency Preparedness and the Survival Mindset to Children of All Ages by Tim Young
Download Ready Wrigley: An App for Kids
Play Disaster Master
Download the Ready 2 Help card game
Download the Prepare with Pedro: Disaster Preparedness Activity Book, which has coloring pages, crosswords, and more
Download Red Cross’s Monster Guard app
Mickey & Friends Disaster Preparedness Downloadable Book
Did you know that children may need more water in the event of an emergency?
According to FEMA, “Having an ample supply of clean water is a top priority in an emergency […] People in hot environments, children, nursing mothers, and ill people will require even more.” That’s why it is a good thing a Waterfull Barrel has enough water for a family and then some! The Waterfull Barrel holds 30 gallons of water, which will sustain a family of 4 for 7 days. That’s 1 gallon of water per person per day with two gallons left over.