Teaching Emergency Preparedness to Children Part 2

Part 2—Practicing Preparedness With A Child


Practicing emergency preparedness with a child is simply a matter of breaking down the discussion into parts that he can understand.  Make the discussions short and to the point, keeping in mind the length of his attention span.  Be prepared to explain in detail AND answer any questions that he has.  When demonstrating skills, like knot tying, have a length of rope for him to practice with, as well.  If tools are being used, make sure that the lesson takes place in a proper setting, like the garage, so that he can practice using them.  To act out preparedness plans like escape routes, describe what might happen, matter-of-factly exploring the dangers, while making it seem more like an adventure.  Even a three-year old can learn from these tactics and be of help (or at least not hindrance!) in real situations.

A child can be useful in helping himself stay safe.  The biggest mistake that adults make is underestimating a child’s abilities.  Think of it this way.  Two hundred years ago, twelve-year olds were tending farms or their siblings alone while Dad and Mom went to town on a three-day trip.  They held responsibilities equal to that of adults, because the amount of work that needed to be finished could not be done by parents alone.  Kids today are still pretty tough.  They handle a lot of new information, technology, changes and constant bombardment from their too-fast-paced world being thrown at them every day.  The best way to judge what a child can handle is to give him a chance to find out.  Try things out slowly, like seeing what information is retained, and then continuing on if he absorbs it well.  If he doesn’t, back up and go slower.  What he can handle will be obvious.

Use teaching methods that encourage faster and more complete comprehension.  Help the child by offering correct verbiage.  Discuss the topic completely.  This helps him comprehend sooner, and offers him the chance to absorb the information.  Do as much hands-on as possible, so that body memory and kinetic learning are involved in the process.  Simplify it.  Adults tend to over-explain the topic, when the idea does not really need to be that complicated.  Last but definitely not least, make sure that the topics are comfortable.  An uncomfortable or worried adult causes an uncomfortable or worried child.

Plan for issues that might arise, like a child going back to a burning house for her favorite doll, or even a teenager attempting to go back and save the dog.  The emotional reactions in this type of a situation can be handled easily with a bit of forethought.  Make plans that take any of these issues into consideration.  Emergency kits, escape routes, and family plans need to be individualized to accommodate everyone and their specific situations.  Be prepared for children to make mistakes, just the same as adults do.  These need to be addressed in a way that does not shame the child.  The old adage that “practice makes perfect,” though, holds true.  The more experience that a child has with preparedness and the purpose behind it, the more likely that he will come through in shining order at the time when it counts the most.



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  1. Some class I was in had a firefighter guest speaker, who told us kids in burning buildings often hid from firefighters and struggled with them when the firefighter tried extracting them from their hiding places. The firefighters figured that kids were scared already by the fire, but then here comes a big hulking firefighter in full gear – in smokey conditions – so this probably frightened the children even more. And frightened kids are amazingly strong, something I learned assisting with IV insertions as a nurse aid on the pediatrics floor, back when I was fairly strong – sometimes we’d come out of their room out of breath!

    So anyway, the firefighters starting giving school demonstrations in full gear, with low lights and some kind of “fire theatrics” (I guess a bit of smoke with some fans blowing paper flames?), so the kids would actually SEE someone they already knew was a firefigher come in to save them from the pretend fire. I don’t know if firefighters still put on these kinds of presentations for kids. I’d check if I was raising a kid though.

  2. I think that our children are faster learners that we give them credit for and I know they are very resilient when put in stressful situations. It is a vital part to have them involved in the plans. If they have responsibilities they are less likely to get in the road when all hell is breaking loose too.

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