Disasters are frightening experiences for both children and adults. It is important to prepare children through conversation and activity for a disaster, without causing anxiety. A tall order! Just as planning ahead will help you deal with an emergency, it will also help your kids. Remember that children take clues from their parents and other adults as to how to respond to a situation. If they see their parents afraid, they are more likely to feel frightened. Kids love routines. They get up, have breakfast, prepare for school, and have play dates with friends. When an emergency breaks this routine, it also breaks their foundation of normalcy. As a parent, your actions are critical to not only keep them safe, but through your responses and actions, reassure them that they are safe. Check out FEMA’s excellent website for getting kids prepared at www.ready.gov/kids.
How to Help Kids Cope
- You are their biggest influence. When you can manage your own feelings, you can make disasters less traumatic for your kids.
Encourage conversation. Listen to your kids. Ask them about their feelings but don’t push. Let them talk at their own pace.Validate their concerns.
- Answer their questions. Be calm. Based on their age, tell your children what they need to know and clarify misunderstandings about risk and danger.
- Engage family in your emergency planning. Discuss your Family Plan and ask your children to participate (in age appropriate way) and practice the plan.
- Turn off the TV. News coverage of disasters creates confusion and anxiety. Repeated images may lead younger kids to believe the event is recurring. If your children do watch TV or use the Internet, be with them to talk and answer questions.
- Get support. Building support networks among family, friends and neighbors can help you cope, which will in turn help your children cope.
Make a Family Plan
Make sure they understand what might happen and what their age-appropriate job is during an emergency. FEMA makes the following recommendations:
- Develop your evacuation plan as a family so your children understand if you have to leave your home, where you are going and why. Establish a family emergency meeting place, and ensure your kids know exactly where it is.
- Develop a communications plan as a family by writing down all the phone numbers you and your kids would need, as well as how to get in touch with each other if you are separated.
- Make sure your children have these phone numbers in their school backpacks. Identify trusted people to assist your children until your family reconnects.
- Know what your children’s school plans are and what you need to do to pick them up if school is dismissed.
- Let your kids be involved in every process of planning.
Emergency Contact Cards
Make sure your kids carry an emergency contact card with them at all times. FEMA has a Family Emergency Plan Card that you can print out or fill in on your computer. The card contains information about your child, the school, parent/guardian or caregiver, neighborhood meeting place and out of area contacts. Cut it out, fold it and put it in your child’s backpack!
Once you have your emergency plan together, practice it as a family with different emergency scenarios so children do not forget. Perhaps you have a “Grab & Go” exercise and have everyone collect their Evacuation Backpacks, get in the car and go for ice cream. Then talk about how it went, and how they feel about it. They might have ideas on what to change. Getting them involved will make them, and you, more comfortable.
Build a Kit
Put your emergency kits together as a family.
- Make it fun. Create a list together, then have a scavenger hunt to gather supplies for the kit.
- Discuss why it is important to have each item in the kit
- Include toys and activities in your kit
If you children haven’t been through a power outage, practice with not using electricity one evening so they can experience cooking on the camping stove, reading with a lantern, etc. This might inspire ideas of what they would like to add to their own kits.
Involving your children in what you store for your emergency supplies gets them engaged and they can help you choose foods that they will eat. They can also help choose an extra set of clothes to store and help put together some hygiene supplies for the family. Download the ReadyMarin Checklists.
- Talk to your kids about what types of emergencies might happen in your area.
- Talk about what might happen if they are in school or away from home.
- Discuss the differences in what they need to do depending on the different emergencies.
- The American Red Cross and Disney collaborated to create Disney’s Mickey & Friends Disaster Preparedness Activity Book, an online interactive book about preparing for a disaster, building a kit, and more activities. Click to view in English or Spanish. You will need Flash on your computer to view the books.
- Ready.gov has a fun interactive game that is a good introduction to teach children what items will need to be in their kit. They are able to grab items in virtual rooms and place in their kit.
- For older children, ready.gov has games and exercises to help them learn about different hazards.