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    How to Prepare Your Children for a Disaster

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    How to Prepare Your Children for a Disaster

    My children will never forget the day a storm ripped through our town and knocked down trees everywhere. A huge oak crashed across our driveway, taking down the power lines and starting a fire in the garden. Because of the widespread disaster, it was 45 minutes before the fire truck could arrive and a week before we had power again. 

    We had a stash of food and water, a wood stove to keep warm, and plenty of flashlights. But I wasn’t prepared for their fears for the future—and their boredom. I had prepped for the occasion but hadn’t prepped my kids! 

    I learned my lesson the hard way, and now I do a better job of keeping my kids ready for anything. Of course, we don’t want our kids to live in fear of a potential disaster that might never happen, but a little bit of preparation goes a long way toward keeping everyone safe and calm in an emergency. 

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    How to Get Started Preparing for Disaster

    1. Research Your Risks

    First of all, you need to know your risk. Where I live, earthquakes are almost unheard of, and tornados are rare. But we do get fierce thunderstorms, nor’easters, snow storms, and other weather emergencies that can trip up our daily activities. 

    So, the first step in preparing your kids for a disaster is to determine what types of disasters are likely in your area. Then, you can tailor your plan to your specific needs. 

    For example:

    Think about which of those things could affect you and your family and what you might do to prepare

    2. Think About Your Family and Your Pets

    Think about the people and animals in your family. Do you have very young children or very old relatives living with you? Someone with special medications or special needs? What kinds of pets do you have? You’ll need to make some special preparations for them if you do. 

    Make a list of every person and animal in your family – their medications, needs, etc. This will help you create your emergency plan

    3. Create An Emergency Plan.

     After you know what the top risks are for your family, you’ll want to create some emergency plans.

    Here are a few examples: 

    • What will you do if you need to evacuate? 
    • What will you do if you need to shelter in place? 
    • How will your family handle a house fire?
    • What if someone has a medical emergency? 
    • What if you have a widespread, long-term power outage

    Create an emergency plan for each potential emergency. It doesn’t have to be detailed but should have enough information so you know exactly what to do in a worst-case scenario. It doesn’t hurt to write out your plans and put them somewhere safe.  Remember that the goal is to be prepared, not scared! 

    4. Create Your Emergency Kit

    We all need an emergency kit. This could be items set aside for a power outage such as flashlights, meals that don’t need to be cooked, and some comfort items for everyone. You may also want a bug out bag for each person, should you need to evacuate quickly.

    Things you’ll want to consider for your emergency kit: 

    You’ll want to update your kit periodically to ensure the items are still good and the clothes fit, and of course, tailor to your family’s needs. 

    FEMA recommends everyone have at least three days' worth of food and water on hand, but in my experience, three days' worth wasn’t enough. I always try to keep at least two weeks worth of food and water in storage. For water, you need at least one gallon per person per day, although two would be better. You’ll also need water for your pets. 

    When storing food, remember your family’s likes and dislikes. Your kids won’t suddenly eat food they dislike just because it’s an emergency, so think about the kinds of foods your family eats regularly and be sure to store those things. Rotate your food storage so you always have the freshest food on hand. 

    If you have a baby, you may also need to make sure you have plenty of formula on hand. (Here's how to make emergency formula.) Don’t forget items like diapers and wipes, a baby carrier, and any other items you may need. 

    5. Teach Your Kids What The Risks Are

    Here is where it gets a little trickier! You need to teach your kids about the risks without teaching them to be afraid. 

    For example, if you live in an area that is prone to tornados, you’ll want to teach your kids what to do if they hear tornado sirens. Will they go to a basement? A storm shelter? Or an inside room? You may also want to teach them about the weather conditions that create tornados. 

    Don’t scare your kids with crazy videos or horror stories; teach them like a science teacher, teaching about the weather. Avoid going down too many rabbit holes of ‘what if’ scenarios. Instead, keep it simple and factual. For example, you might say, “When the siren sounds, we stop what we are doing and head right to the basement.” This way, they know what to do without getting scared.

    Although tornadoes are extremely rare where I live, small tornados occasionally touch down. The damage is usually contained to a single neighborhood.  One day, the Red Cross app on my phone sounded an alarm, and at first, I ignored it because it was such a rare phenomenon. But then a friend called to say this was an actual event, and I needed to get my kids to shelter

    So I gathered my kids, and we headed for the basement. They were pretty scared, thinking a tornado was really coming our way. I reminded them that this was just a warning – a precaution due to the thunderstorm happening outside. 

    I had toys and games, bean bag chairs, and snacks stashed in the basement for such an emergency.  Instead of focusing on the scary situation outdoors, we concentrated on playing games and having fun indoors. 

    As expected, the threat passed quickly and without incident. But we learned together that we don’t have to be scared if we are prepared. 

    You can do the same thing with earthquakes, nor’easters, hurricanes, or any other hazard that happens where you live. The idea is that you be prepared with a plan for what to do and teach your kids about it. Then, you won’t be paralyzed with fear when something bad happens or threatens to happen.

    It’s also critical to teach your kids about housefires, how to prevent them, what to do if there is one, where to go, and what not to do.  

    Don’t wait until something happens to help your kids know how to handle it. Be prepared and teach your kids beforehand so they know what to do even if you aren’t there to help. 

    6. Practice The Plan

    Once you have plans in place, you need to practice them! Schools have regular fire drills and intruder drills. You can make practicing a fun game. Here are some ideas: 


    I did this with my family – remember to do your own research and then tailor the plan and the practice to what makes sense for your family

    First, I made sure my house is equipped with working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Then, I created a very simple plan about what we would do if a fire happened. My kids learn about this in school, so it was pretty easy to get them invested and ask them what they think. 

    We talked about how to stop, drop, and roll if you get fire on you. We talked about how to stay low to stay out of the smoke and cover your face. Also, I told them we need to alert everyone as loudly as possible.

    When you have your plan in place, practice! 

    Our plan is to alert the family as loudly as possible and then make the most direct exit from the house as quickly as possible. Go to the neighbor’s house and call 911. 

    First, I demonstrate what the smoke detector sounds like (you could use the test button or find a good YouTube video). Then, practice yelling and leaving. Maybe you want to see who can crawl out of the house the fastest or who can run to the designated spot the fastest.

    The idea is to have a plan and practice it regularly so that if the unthinkable happens, you already know what to do, and your body knows how to do it. 

    You can prepare your kids for bugging out by taking long hikes in the woods and seeing who can be the quietest on the hike. Or practice getting to your storm shelter, basement, or safe room when you hear the tornado siren. No matter what your plan is – spend time rehearsing it with your kids. 

    Power Outages:

    Many disasters come with power outages, so a great way to practice with your kids is to plan a no-power weekend. Remember to plan ahead and prep the kids so they aren’t afraid! And only do what is safe for you and your family

    For me, I’ll pick a weekend with mild weather so we aren’t taking chances on getting too cold and suffering from hypothermia or getting too hot and risking heat stroke. It’s also easier to practice this at a time of year when there is more daylight than on cold winter days when there isn’t much sun. 

    If it's safe for you to do so, you could turn off the power in the entire house. But you’ll need to take extra measures to protect the food in your fridge and freezer or keep your sump pump running. Instead, it might be easier to turn off the lights and avoid using devices needing power. 

    We’ll have gas for the generators (it’s a good time to make sure they are working properly and practice using them), charge up the solar batteries, and make sure our devices are charged! iPads and cell phones won’t hold a charge long if you use them, so you’ll want to ensure you can conserve the power on necessary devices like that. That means planning more basic, low-tech activities that you can do with little light or by flashlight

    Card games, books, coloring books, and simple board games are great ways to have fun as a family without using power. A basic Kindle from Amazon will hold a charge for a very long time, and since it uses such little battery power, you can get hours of use out of one without having to recharge it. 

    Make a plan for what you will do during your weekend without power. Plan for how you will cook, what you will eat, how you will entertain yourselves, and how you will end your weekend. 

    I have a wood stove, so we’ll bring in plenty of firewood to keep warm for the weekend. I can cook basic meals on the wood stove like scrambled eggs, biscuits, hot water for oatmeal, and even canned soups.  I have some camping stoves on hand, too, so if it isn’t raining, we can easily cook pasta on the Trangia or hotdogs over the firepit. 

    We go to bed when it gets dark, so we don’t have to worry about having a lot of light to do things by. And we’ll make it extra fun by camping in our sleeping bags in the living room. 

    At the end of the weekend, we turn the power back on. And we celebrate with a little pizza party and ice cream and talk about what we learned. We also talk about what was easy and hard and what we could do to make it better and more fun next time. 

    Another way to practice for a power outage is simply to go tent camping. You’ll do some similar planning – what you will eat, how you will cook it, and what you will do without power and the internet. I find that camping translates well to having the skills to get through a power outage

    7. Teach Them To Be Familiar With Your Emergency Kit

    An emergency kit won’t help you if you don’t know how to use it. So, teach your kids what is in the emergency kit. Make sure they know where it is and what each item is for. 

    8. Memorize Critical Phone Numbers and Other Important Info

    If you are ever incapacitated or someone gets injured, your kids will need to know how to contact 911. They’ll need to be able to identify themselves and provide their phone number and their address so that emergency services can find you. 

    I keep essential information posted inside one of my cabinet doors so the kids can always find it. It includes: 

    • Our names
    • Our phone number 
    • Our address 
    • Phone numbers for our emergency contacts and family members, in order of who to try first
    • Phone numbers for pediatricians, doctors, 911, and poison control 
    • Any important health information 
    • A list of current medications

    If someone gets injured, the kids know how to call. And if the ambulance arrives, they can show the technicians important health information they might need to know for treatment. 

    When my kids were younger, we made flashcards with our phone numbers and address so the kids could practice. 

    9. Help Your Kids Learn Basic First Aid Skills

    The Red Cross offers basic first aid classes for kids as young as eight.  But you can start teaching your kids at younger ages, too, using role-playing or treating pretend injuries in babies. This isn’t just so they can help you in an emergency. If they know what to do, they can stay calmer during other medical emergencies. 

    For example, when my son was around nine years old, he fell out of a tree and badly cut his leg. I called 911 and administered first aid until the paramedics arrived to help. And while he needed lots of stitches, he was fine in the long run. The challenge was that the other kids were afraid. Keeping them calm while I focused on my son was the hardest part. 

    However, if you teach your kids what they can do in an emergency, they’ll be more prepared to stay calm. Years later, my kids still talk about that day, but now they know how to handle it.  If something similar should happen again, they know exactly what to do, who to call, and how to stay calm. 

    Here are some basic first aid skills to learn.

    10. Teach Your Kids Survival Skills and Other Basic Skills

    First aid is just one tool your kids can use in their emergency tool belt. But other survival skills can help, too, as long as you are sensitive to their age and ability level. 

    My kids, even the younger ones, know how to make breakfast and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The older ones can cook eggs, use the microwave, and use the can opener. One of my kids loves to cook, so he knows how to use the stove safely and can even cook an entire Thanksgiving dinner! But the key is knowing what your kids are capable of and if they can do it safely. 

    My kids also know how to do things like feed the chickens and gather eggs. They can stack firewood, and some of the kids are capable of starting a fire in the woodstove (safely and with supervision, of course). 

    You may also want to practice other survival skills with your kids. You could teach them how to find or build shelter, avoid poisonous plants, and watch the weather. Kids also need to learn about online safety, how to use the phone, and how to communicate in an emergency. What you teach your kids, of course, will depend on their age, their level of understanding, and their ability to do the tasks safely. 

    Other activities, such as being physically active, practicing good hygiene, and being capable and independent, go a long way toward being ready for an emergency. Helping kids stay physically active is a lot harder in our heavily digital world, but it can be an important part of being prepared to handle the physical challenges of a disaster situation.

    I find that each of my kids has different strengths, interests, and abilities, which means they each make unique contributions to the safety and preparedness of our family. It’s fun to help them discover and develop the types of survival and daily skills they are good at and enjoy working on. 

    Final Thoughts 

    I always thought I was pretty well-prepared to handle an emergency. I have a stash of food and water, generators, first aid supplies, a wood stove, and plenty of firewood. I have things to do if the power is out, and I know which plants in my yard are safe to eat and which are not. 

    But I learned the hard way that I also need to prepare my kids, not just prepare FOR my kids. Now, we plan ahead together for potential disasters. Not only do we have our preps ready, but we have plans, too. We practice what we can and talk about what we can’t practice. We keep it light and fun because I don’t want them to live in fear of things that might never happen. 

    Not only do we work on day-to-day skills and survival skills, but we also practice resilience, staying positive, and good problem-solving. Instead of being afraid, we make disaster preparedness a normal part of everyday, healthy living. 

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