A natural disaster can be traumatizing for adults, but it can be especially frightening and even more devastating for young children. As parents, it’s our responsibility to lead by example, especially during stressful times, and preparation is the best way to handle these difficult situations. Here are a few tips to help prepare yourself and your kids for a natural disaster.
Talk to your family.
Information about natural disasters should come from you, not from the media. Limit your children’s exposure to the news, particularly images – while we as adults have context to understand powerful images, young children may not yet have the ability to process what they are seeing. When approaching the subject of a severe weather event, remember to stay calm and collected when communicating with your children. Provide age-appropriate details, answer their questions directly, and be factual. Share knowledge clearly and often, and plan on having a series of small conversations about it. Encourage them to ask questions, and look up unknown answers together.
Create a kid-focused go bag.
Putting together an emergency kit (Opens in a new window) (PDF file) (0.1mb) for your family is a good activity to do with children and can be turned into a game. A go bag kids can easily grab if you need to evacuate is key to getting your family out the door quickly. Talk to your children about the items they need and use daily. Then, ask them what they’d like to take with them if they have to leave their home – remember, a child’s emergency checklist should cover comfort items like stuffed animals, games or other things to help retain some normalcy in their lives if affected by a natural disaster. Develop a list of items for them to add to their go bag and award small prizes, such as stickers, for every item your children collect. Update their list every year, as their comfort items may change as they age, and keep this list in an easily accessible location in your home.
Come up with an emergency evacuation plan.
An evacuation plan that instructs everyone how to quickly and safely exit the residence is a must if an emergency forces your family to abruptly leave home. If the emergency happens when you aren’t together as a family, make sure your children know where to go and whom to contact – FEMA recommends (Opens in a new window) (PDF file) (1mb) having your child memorize a list of contacts and phone numbers. They can also keep a written copy in their school bag to have it handy. If your evacuation route takes you out of town, bring some coloring books or plan some road trip activities they can do in the car to keep them occupied.
Practice disaster drills.
Rehearsing what to do in the event of a natural disaster will comfort your children when a real disaster strikes. Drills can be turned into games, too, which will increase your children’s level of attention and recall. Different natural disasters require different plans, so be sure your children know when your family would need to evacuate versus when to shelter-in-place (and where to shelter within the house). Parents.com recommends practicing these drills regularly, and picking up speed over time to simulate a sense of urgency during a real emergency.
Children look to their parents for comfort and how to act in unfamiliar and life-threatening situations like a natural disaster. If you find yourself in one, first, calm yourself and then open a dialogue about what has happened. You might need to address their feelings and concerns. It’s important to also limit their exposure to media, TV and social media during this time.
Additional details about how to help your children prepare and cope for a natural disaster can be found at www.ready.gov/kids. Be proactive about disaster preparedness, as it could make all the difference for your family’s safety, property and peace of mind.