Talking to Children About
You should not
worry that talking about disasters will make children fearful. On the contrary,
children are usually more frightened by what is whispered or not mentioned aloud
than by matter-of-fact discussion. Let children speak feely about what scares or
puzzles them—for example, “What will happen to my puppy if we have to evacuate?”
“If there’s a flood and I’m at school, I won’t be able to find you.” Try to
answer questions and address concerns with concrete, easy-to-follow
When helping children learn how to prepare for, respond
safely during, and recover from a disaster, it is important to adapt your
discussions, instructions, and practice drills to their skills and abilities. Be
aware that young children can easily confuse messages such as “drop, cover, and
hold on” (response during an earthquake) and “stop, drop, and roll” (response if
your clothes catch on fire).
Tell children that a disaster is something
that happens that could hurt people, cause damage, or cut off utilities, such as
water, telephones, or electricity. Explain to them that nature sometimes
provides "too much of a good thing"—fire, rain, wind, snow. Talk about typical
effects of disasters that children can relate to, such as loss of electricity,
water, and telephone service.
Give examples of several disasters that
could happen in your community. Help children recognize the warning signs for
each. Discussing disaster ahead of time reduces fear and anxiety and lets
everyone know how to respond.
Be prepared to answer children’s questions
about scary things that they have heard about or seen on television, such as
terrorist attacks. Give constructive information about how they can be prepared
to protect themselves.
Teach children how and when to call for help.
Teach them to call 9-1-1 or your local emergency telephone number. At home, post
emergency telephone numbers by all phones and explain when to call each number.
Include the work numbers and cell phone numbers of household members. Even very
young children can be taught how and when to call for emergency assistance. If a
child cannot read, make an emergency phone number chart with pictures or icons
for 911, “daddy,” and “mommy” that may help the child identify the correct
number to call.
Tell children that in a disaster there are many people
who can help them. Talk about ways that an emergency manager, American Red Cross
volunteer, police officer, firefighter, teacher, neighbor, doctor, or utility
worker might help after a disaster. Teach children to call your out-of-town
contact in case they are separated from the family and cannot reach family
members in an emergency. Tell them, “If no one answers, leave a voice message if
possible and then call the alternative contact.” Help them memorize the
telephone numbers, and write them down on a card that they can keep with
Quiz your children every six months so they will remember where to
meet, what phone numbers to call, and safety rules.
when people know what to do and practice in advance, everyone is able to take
care of themselves better in emergencies.
By including all members of
your household—regardless of age—in disaster preparedness discussions, you will
emphasize each person’s importance as a member of the safety