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Preparedness for Kids - Part II

Give the Facts Depending on your child's age, he/she might know that hurricanes and tornadoes can cause serious damage and hurt people, but he/she may not understand what actually happens during these events or what causes them. Don't worry -- you don't have to sit him down for a two-hour meteorology lesson. But parents should start by teaching kids about two types of disasters that could affect the home: an evacuation emergency, such as a fire, and a shelter-in-place emergency, such as a tornado,

You should start with the fire emergency, This is a smart starting point for the discussion because both natural disasters and manmade (non-weather-related issues) can cause fire. Choose the other emergency by determining which is likely to occur in your area. Once you feel your child is ready, you can teach him about other natural disasters. For example, in Florida consider teaching about a hurricane. In California consider teaching about earthquakes. If you're unsure about how to explain disasters, help is within your grasp. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a parent- and kid-friendly site with information on each disaster's cause. Make time to read books such as I'll Know What to Do: A Kid's Guide to Natural Disasters and I Wonder Why Volcanoes Blow Their Tops: and Other Questions About Natural Disasters may also be helpful. Another useful tool is to draw pictures with your children depicting the event being discussed. Remember participation means graduation. A smart prepared kid could make the difference. If you don't invest time now, don't panic when your child freezes and withdraws during a disaster. Children can be resilient. - Make the time to comfort your child. It's natural for kids to be fearful of these events. Obviously, you should try to reassure your child, but don't say there's no reason to be afraid or that the disaster won't happen in your area. This can sound dismissive of your child's feelings, and it's not good to make promises about situations you can't control. Instead, let him/her know it's okay to be scared; then be honest about the situation." Even for kids as young as age 5, you could say, 'Sometimes these things do happen. It's very rare, but not impossible. Here's what we will do to get through it,'" Assess, create your plan, explain your plan, practice your plan and then critique areas needing more practice. The result of your plan is only as good as your practice. Also, while emphasizing the importance, have fun.

Find out which disasters are most common where you live, then visit our emergency resource library for specific tips on what to do and discuss. For example, if you live in an earthquake-prone area, your child should be taught to DROP, COVER and HOLD ON. Next, check at your children's schools, day care, or other locations where they regularly spend time. Find out what their emergency plans are so that you can reinforce them at home.

Talk about emergency preparation with your family so that everyone knows what to do. Discussing ahead of time helps reduce fear, particularly for younger children. Involve your entire family in preparation activities, such as assembling a survival kit. Children can feel reassured knowing there's a plan in place.

Your Child's Response May Be Shaped By Yours Feelings of fear are healthy and natural, but in a disaster, your children will be looking to you for clues on how to act:

- If you show alarm, your child may become more scared, seeing your fear as proof that the danger is real. - If you seem overcome with loss, your child may feel their losses more strongly. - If you are able to demonstrate that you feel calm and in control, your child may feel more confident and better able to cope. A Child Who Feels Afraid Is Afraid Your child may experience the emergency as being bigger than it actually is. Children's fears can be increased by their imagination, and you should take these feelings seriously. Your words and actions can provide reassurance; be sure to present a realistic picture that is both honest and manageable. - Create a Family Disaster Plan Gather your kids and explain the importance of preparation. Talk about which disasters your family is most at risk for, how to prepare for each danger, and how to respond if it occurs. Then create an evacuation plan that includes two outside meeting places in case your family members are separated. These meeting places are called Rally Points. One spot should be right outside your home, maybe near the mailbox. The other should be outside the neighborhood at the library, for instance, or in front of the police station in case you can't return home. You also need to establish a shelter-in-place plan. Choose a room with the fewest windows and doors to designate as the safe room. If possible, choose a room or location in the basement or main floor centered in the middle away from walls and windows.

Consider reviewing and using the 5-5-5 plan. Here is a link to the 5.5.5 Plan. Part of your plan should include a "football" bag with essential personal documents, Another important part of disaster preparedness is communication. In an easily accessible place, keep a list of emergency services numbers and the cell phone, school, and work numbers for all household members. Try using FEMA's downloadable Family Emergency Plan as a guideline. Other considerations during emergency planning can be the care of pets, how to turn off utilities, and the disaster plans of your child's school and your workplace. - Prepare a Disaster Kit No disaster plan is complete without supplies. Allow your child to help you gather the gear; this will reassure him that you really are prepared, and he will feel good about doing his part to protect the family. Establish a cache outside your home with extra clothing (seasonal), 72 hours of food and water, cash, and other items you identify as needed. Self-reliance is the goal.

Your kit should include: nonperishable foods, water, a battery-powered radio, flashlights, extra batteries, a manual can opener, cash, copies of personal identification, matches, a cell phone and charger, and an extra set of keys. Depending on your family's needs, you may also need diapers, formula, prescription medications, and other essentials. You should add your child's favorite snacks as well as a couple of coloring books or other small hobbies he enjoys. Making the day after the disaster as much like the day before the disaster helps kids have a sense of normalcy during a distressing time,

Check out this link for disaster planning - - Do Disaster Drills Just as your child practices fire drills at school, disaster drills at home are a good way to review what to do during a crisis. First, explain the drill for your children and then have them participate. Depending on which drill you're practicing, you want to teach your kids how to warn others of the danger, how to escape from the home, where to meet (Rally Points) after escaping, where to "shelter" inside the home, how to contact emergency personnel, and what steps to take after the incident. Practice drills regularly and as your kids get the hang of them, pick up speed to simulate the sense of urgency during a true emergency. - Monitor Exposure to Media Coverage Whether there's a hurricane warning for your city or a different part of the world just experienced a tsunami, be aware of what your child sees on TV or in other media." Much of media coverage is visual, and these images are for adult brains and very difficult to get out of a child's mind, Plus, when kids see multiple reports of the same event, they may think it's happening repeatedly. If your child sees or hears coverage that causes her to worry, answer any questions and remind her that if it ever happens in your area, you have a plan in place. - How to Help Your Child Recover After a Disaster What to Expect Children depend on familiar routines: wake up, eat breakfast, go to school, play with friends. When an emergency interrupts this routine, they may become anxious, confused, or frightened. These feelings may be expressed in a variety of ways: from clinginess to withdrawal; increased shyness to aggressiveness. Your child may return to previously outgrown behaviors such as thumb-sucking or carrying a cuddly toy. What to Do When the danger has passed, concentrate on your child's emotional needs by asking what's on his or her mind. Having children participate in your family's recovery activities will help them feel that life will soon return to "normal." During their recovery, prevent young children from viewing television news reports of the event. The images can be very upsetting, particularly if the child is too young to realize they are watching repeated footage and not a new emergency.

See Part III for more information on planning.

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