Preparing children for emergencies requires that parents and other responsible adults speak to them in a language they understand.
What color is an earthquake? Or winter storm? Or flood?
Whatever color you choose, your children will certainly see it differently. Talking with them about those differences can help them prepare for emergencies like the ones so many families have had to meet this spring as the nation has been hit repeatedly by natural disasters.
A Necessary Conversation
Talking to an elementary school-aged child about natural disasters requires some simplification.
It may not be helpful to the discussion of threatening weather to haul out meteorological charts and start throwing around terms like “isobar” and “jet stream” even if you know what they mean. Simple vocabulary and simple concepts are the rule in this case.
However, this is not a time to tell your child not to worry and that mommy and daddy will always ride to the rescue like an old fashioned cavalry troop.
As children often spend a significant amount of their day away from parents and relatives, this is simply not telling the truth in a situation where truth-telling is necessary.
While adults should not frighten or confuse with too much information, even young children require training in how to carry out simple responses in case of emergency. In a sudden emergency, even a few yards away may be too far.
The Right Tools
To help parents in this task, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross have put together a simple tool, the Disaster Preparedness Coloring Book, that can be used by adults to teach children about fire, earthquakes, floods, and tornadoes while showing them a few simple techniques they can use to protect themselves.
Though some of the material will seem simplistic to an adult, children will use the opportunity to raise questions they might never have considered on a topic otherwise new to them. And once the conversation is started, the adult can steer it where necessary to ensure the child knows how to respond in case of need.
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No Time Later
The most important concept relates to the lack of time associated with natural disasters – they can strike quickly and protective actions must take place without delay. Children are sometimes reluctant to act, but they need to understand the special nature of these situations and that they have permission to do what is necessary.