Preparing for the Worst: How Parents Can Help Their Children with Disaster Preparedness

As a parent, there’s always the looming possibility of needing to have one of those “difficult” conversations with your child. Whether sharing the news about a loved one passing or talking about topics like drugs, sex, world news, and cyber threats, the need for parents to be prepared for these conversations is big because, when the need for these talks arises, there’s rarely time to wait. Our current pandemic is proof of such moments.

In addition to the “standard” tough conversations we think about as parents in today’s world, there’s another broader topic that deserves to be looked at more closely: disasters. Yes, the definition of “disasters” leaves plenty of room for interpretation, including things like natural phenomenon (hurricanes, fires, earthquakes), human-caused disasters (terrorism, mass shootings), as well as pandemics and diseases. But, to a child, while the word “disaster” might not register these same thoughts we have as adults, the feelings that happen in wake of a disaster of any kind are the same.

When facing a disaster, children go through a range of emotions, including an intense fear for their lives and the lives of the people they love. This extreme emotion often sends them into a primitive state, which means they are rarely thinking clearly. This is why it’s so important for parents to talk openly about disasters and, specifically, what to do when and if they occur. Preparing for disasters, whether talking about plans or physically practicing, is one of the only ways to keep your child safe when they are faced with an emergency.

As a parent, it’s your responsibility to lay the groundwork for disaster preparedness, which means that well before the serious “real” conversation, you can start helping your child develop a strong foundation of readiness.

What does that look like?

Here are a few tips to start creating a solid foundation for disaster preparedness with your child…

  1. Ask Questions. Asking your child questions is a great way to start a more casual conversation, which can lead to more serious topics later on. In terms of disaster preparedness, one of the best things you can do as a parent is ask your child questions about what they might do if there was an emergency. Additionally, younger children might benefit from simple conversations about what emergencies are and the types they are familiar with. Discussing how important it is to care for each other and how much you love them always allows these conversations to stay positive and enjoyable for everyone involved.
  2. Practice Following Directions. Most parents work on getting children to follow their directions naturally, whether it’s about small chores around the house or with classroom settings in mind. Helping your child understand the importance of following directions from someone they trust can also help them get ready if and when disaster strikes. Of course, it’s important to help your child understand the difference between a direction that keeps them safe versus a command that can put them in a dangerous or uncomfortable situation. Teaching your child to discern the difference between these two things is incredibly important for their overall safety and well-being.
  3. Create an Emergency Kit. Another way you can help your child start preparing for a potential disaster is to create an emergency kit, discussing the items you’re putting in and why. As you work on this kit, your child will probably have quite a few questions – and now is a good time to answer them. Because you’re doing this activity in a relaxed, comfortable state, having a conversation will feel fun to your child. And, if you notice them getting scared, remind them that you’re doing this so that, if an emergency happens, they can be calm and confident, knowing exactly what to do.

Disaster preparedness with children can be tricky to navigate, but by laying the groundwork, you can help them gain confidence and knowledge so that they will be as safe as possible in all potential situations.

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