Preparing Children for a Disaster: A Primer


Growing up in a prepared household these are a few of the tips I learned from my parents about preparing children for a disaster.  I have started to teach my daughter these as well, even though she is 18 months.

#1 – Start teaching them now.
It is never too early to start teaching kids how to be prepared and survive.  My father worked in several types of emergency services and my mother worked with emergency support services as a volunteer.  One of their favorite stories is that by the time I was three, I knew how to use a two-way radio.  When I was five, I could tie a sling to a wounded arm, better than most of the adult students in their first aid classes.  By eight, I could build a snow shelter and make a shelter in the forest.  There are many cases where a small child saved an adult’s life because they were taught what to do at a very early age.

#2 – Practice with your family. Kids need to have things repeated, and repeated, and repeated, and repeated.  Think about how many times they hear the ABCs.  The reason I could do first aid at such a young age was because my parents had to take me with them when they taught classes.  In school, we practice fire drills each month.  The reason is that with practice, it becomes automatic.  Do the same at home when preparing children for a disaster.  Yes, my family had home fire drills, including when friends stayed over.  I even had pop quizzes on emergency information.  Give rewards, verbal or physical, when they do good to encourage them to continue learning.  I had a sticker chart for chores, schoolwork, and emergency stuff.

#3 – Show them that this is important and serious. Show them that you take this seriously by being serious when you talk about being prepared.  It can kind of be made to be fun, but let them know that there is a reason for this information and the reason is that you want them to be safe, because you love them.

There were many times I remember Dad coming home from work and just looking at me and asking me questions like  “If there is a fire, where do you go?”  (Mailbox)  “Do you wait to find Mommy or Daddy?”  (No)  “If someone tries to take you, what do you yell?”  (“I don’t know you”, then “get away from me” as loud as I can.)  “What is the phrase they will tell you if they were sent by us?”  (Something about Dr. Who, it rotated)  or “If someone breaks into the house, what should you do?”  (Dial 911, leave phone off the hook, as I go to my room to hide in my big messy closet, unless I can get out the backdoor).   Even without him telling me, I knew a kid was hurt or died that day because they did not know the answers. My parents really took preparing children for a disaster seriously!



#4 – Teach them where equipment is in your house
. I can still tell you where the fire extinguisher, first aid kit, band-aids, gauze bandages, roller bandages, and radios were in each of our houses growing up.  I remember one time, while Dad was gone, my mom cut herself badly while pruning.  She came into the house yelling for me, then laid down on the bathroom floor.  I got what was needed and started to apply first aid while making sure she did not go into shock.  I think I was about 10 at the time.

#5 – Make first aid kits and emergency equipment a habit.  While in school, I had a basic first aid kit, safety pins, and flashlight in my backpack.  It was part of my back-to-school supplies.  I have a feeling they were even kept in my diaper bag, although I don’t know for sure.  I know these supplies are in my daughter’s diaper bag, which my daycare provider says is the most organized and prepared bag she has seen.  As an adult, I have the same in my purse, as well as my classroom.  I knew having a fire extinguisher was important, because one was always outside my bedroom door.  This meant that when I went away to college I got one on my first shopping trip.

#6 – Visitors to the house need to know emergency procedures as well.  The first time someone came to spend the night at my house, they were told our emergency meeting place.  As my parents always said, “If they are staying at our house, their safety is our responsibility.”  They were also told what to do if I had low blood sugar, as I am diabetic.

#7 – Your kids will not always be with you. Ask about where they would go if a fire happened while they were spending the night at a friend’s house or at the babysitter’s.  Make them think about how to get out of various locations and where to go so that it becomes a habit.  I tended to ask people where their meeting place was the first time I stayed at someone’s house, so it got them thinking about emergency preparedness as well.

End thoughts

Having a prepared kid doesn’t mean you don’t have to worry.  You are a parent so of course you will worry.  What it does mean is that you will not have to spend valuable time giving directions, which they won’t hear, to a stressed out stubborn kid, when you are stressed yourself.

Hopefully you will never have to find out, but training your kid could save their or someone else’s life.  It will also put a better head on their shoulders when they are away from you.  At the very least, it will give them habits to make them prepared adults. Preparing children for a disaster should be as important as teaching your child how to ride a bike.

Rebecca Amela

Rebecca is a school teacher and has been involved with the American Red Cross and other community preparedness organizations. She is married, has a daughter, a son on the way, and lives in the Northwest. When not teaching, her hobbies include crafts, sewing, and the science fiction genre.

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preparing children for a disaster