How to prepare your kids for an emergency

Children are vulnerable creatures, and disasters, even some that may not seem dramatic, will affect them in unpredictable ways.

PHOTO: ISTOCK

Talk to your kids

Children are not just small adults. They are completely different creatures, and disasters, even some that may not seem dramatic, will affect them in unpredictable ways. Preparing to meet the needs of this vulnerable group is a big part of the reasons many families begin their journey toward a more prepared lifestyle.

Prior to an emergency

Include your kids in your plans without scaring them. If you tell them that you are putting a flashlight next to their bed so they can see to move around if the power goes out during the night, they will accept it as the way their family does things. Talk to them before an expected round of storms about what they might see and how your family is prepared to handle it. You can explain that fire, wind, snow, and rain are all part of nature. When we get too much of them at once during a storm, it can cause the lights to go out and other things in the house to stop working for a while.

Talk to them also about the people who help others in an emergency or a disaster. They should have some real-world experience with firefighters, police officers, and paramedics so that they aren’t afraid of them or the uniforms or sirens.

If your children can read, a checklist hanging in an obvious location can provide them with reminders of what they need to do should the lights go out and you aren’t home. Younger kids will benefit from seeing photographs of what to do. Kids like to be part of the team, so assign them chores that make them feel included.

And one final recommendation: Even though your kids will complain that it’s nerdy, have fire drills. Children do best with a lot of practice.

During an emergency

Even with preparation, kids may be frightened, especially if you allow your concern to show. The most important thing you can do is to remain calm. Some kids may get hyper and silly when stressed, while others shut down. Keeping an eye on your children and recognizing their signs of anxiety will allow you to add extra support when they need it.

Activist protest as Bill Cosby departs after the second day of jury deliberations on day 13 of the actor and comedian's sexual assault trial at the Montgomery County Court House, in Norristown, PA How to talk to young kids about tough topics in the newsDon’t expect your children to sleep in their own rooms while a storm is raging. Their imaginations may be running away with them. If they share some far-fetched idea (e.g., the house will be buried in snow and you won’t be able to dig your way out), don’t ignore their fears. Let your children express themselves, but then pre­sent a more realistic picture of what they can expect.

During (and after) a major storm or other crisis, keep your children with you, even (or especially) those who are generally pretty independent. They are less likely to see the danger in a situation and more likely to take risks if something looks like fun. Compared with adults, kids typically have more extreme reactions to everything from toxins in the air to temperature fluctuations. They tend to get sick faster and hurt more often. All of this means that it’s a good idea to watch kids more carefully.

After an emergency

Post-traumatic stress is common in many people, and more so in children. Children have less experience with bouncing back from a traumatic event than adults have, and they are less likely to fully understand what has happened. They are often exposed to constant news coverage of tragedies without the chance for discussion to put the events in context. Be aware that you may need to protect young children from unnecessary exposure to information they are not ready to process, especially if it centers around their own community or school. Consider whether your child needs to know every detail or see people’s grief and loss on television. Don’t be surprised if children revert to behavior they might have grown out of, like bed-wetting or thumb-sucking. They may need a night-light for a while after the emergency, too.

Keep your kids in the loop about what is happening with your family. If you need to evacuate, let them know where you plan to sleep. As soon as possible, return to your usual schedule. Try to maintain your usual rituals for things like bedtime stories and spiritual practices. Even schoolwork can provide a welcome and familiar connection to their familiar experiences.

Provide ways for your children to process their reactions. Encourage them to draw pictures or tell stories about their memories and remind them that you are all safe now. If your child is experiencing symptoms of anxiety (sleep disturbances or nightmares, eating difficulty, separation anxiety) after a crisis, ask for help from a qualified professional.

A few extras

In addition to your regular preparedness supplies, extra things are a good idea when you have children to think about. Nonelectronic entertainment like board games, cards, puzzles, and art supplies will help pass the time. Be sure your first-aid supplies contain child-specific treatments like oral rehydration therapy and over-the-counter remedies. Comfort foods that your child already likes will make for less stressful mealtimes. If you should have to evacuate, it’s helpful to bring along comfort items like a stuffed animal or favorite blanket.

On the bookshelf

Many good resources are available to help your child cope with traumatic events. Some are geared toward kids and some toward adults.

  • The Berenstain Bears Get the Scaredies, by Stan and Jan Berenstain
  • The Big Dark, by Rodman Philbrick
  • Blizzard, by John Rocco
  • A Brighter Tomorrow: A Workbook to Help Kids Cope with Traumatic Events, by Erainna Winnett
  • Crunch, by Leslie Connor
  • Healing Days: A Guide for Kids Who Have Experienced Trauma, by Susan Farber Straus
  • Night of the Twisters, by Ivy Ruckman
  • A Terrible Thing Happened, by Margaret M. Holmes
  • Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship, and Survival, by Kirby Larson and Mary Nethery
  • Whimsy’s Heavy Things, by Julia Kraulis
  • Zane and the Hurricane: A Story of Katrina, by Rodman Philbrick

Excerpted from Prepping 101: 40 Steps You Can Take to Be Prepared by Kathy Harrison, copyright © 2018 by the author and reprinted by permission from Storey Publishing.

Read more:
“War, torture, murder:” Why I don’t shield my kids from the news
7 ways to reassure your child after frightening news events

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