Children and Emergencies: Preparing Your Family

As upsetting as an emergency or disaster may be for adults, it is likely to be more so for children. Emergencies will cause anxiety, stress and fear '- especially if adults react in panic or hysteria. Children look to adults for guidance, strength, support and comfort. They will model their behavior after adults' behavior, so it is crucial to stay calm around children.

What children fear:
• The disaster or event will happen again.
• Someone will be killed or injured.
• They will be left alone.
• They will lose contact with their family.

It's important for children to help clean up, fix up and do whatever it takes to return life to normal. Tell children that a disaster is something that could hurt people, cause damage and cut off water, electricity or phone service. Explain that adults prepare for disasters, and children can help get ready.

Use examples of several disasters that could happen: fire, tornado, wind, ice or snowstorm, chemical spill, train wreck, airplane crash, etc. Explain that there are solutions or ways of handling each one.

What children need to know:
Phone numbers and other important family information: Children should know their last name, home address, phone number and family meeting place. Use an index card and have them keep it with them. Make the assignment fun '- promise a treat when they can recite this information. Show how to call their "family contact" in case they are separated from their family in an emergency. Practice this call once a month.

How and when to call for help: Even young children can be shown '- through pictures '- when and how to dial 9-1-1. Teach them how to make long distance calls in an emergency.

The role of strangers: Explain that in an emergency many people '- even strangers '- can help them. Help kids understand the difference between strangers in a disaster situation and those in everyday life.

What to do: Children need to be given duties and instructions in an evacuation plan and fire drill in an emergency at home. Also, teach children that matches and lighters are tools used by grown-ups and are not toys.

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