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Preparing Young Children For Disaster

Updated on March 13, 2015

There are several simple, but essential, steps to preparing young children for disaster. Young children can learn anything once they know what, why and how. Prepare your child by giving them the information they need in words and language that they can understand. Make the information easy for them to understand and they will remember and remind you every time it seems as if disaster might be near. Teach your child how to be prepared and what to do in the event of an emergency. They need to know what to do in case an adult is not able to help them in an emergency. Teaching them what to do to prepare and practicing how to be safe, may save their life and yours one fateful day.

A neighborhood in Joplin, Missouri immediately following the May 22, 2011 EF5 tornado.
A neighborhood in Joplin, Missouri immediately following the May 22, 2011 EF5 tornado.

First Things First

Explain to your child that sometimes bad things happen. In our area we have an active tornado season. We explain to children that when cold weather and hot weather run into each other then the clouds have to go somewhere so they spin around and around each other until they can go in the same direction together. This is easily understandable for small children. As your child grows older there are several websites I have listed below that both explain and demonstrate to children how tornadoes form and what happens when they occur. The most important thing to tell your child is that we cannot stop them from happening, but we can be prepared when they do. Then teach them what to do.

Tucking into this position is similar to that of a turtle.
Tucking into this position is similar to that of a turtle.

Plan Ahead

There are several ways to teach a young child what to do in case of a disaster. Reading a book or playing a game is a good way to practice what to do. Small children can act out the steps. The important part is to keep them simple and few in number. It is best to keep the number of steps equal to the child's age. A 3 year old can easily remember 3 steps, a 4 year old can remember 4 steps and so forth.

One simple way for a child to remember is a 3x5 card with pictures on it. This can help a child remember until they have it down pat. Let your child pick out the pictures and help make the card. Talk about the steps and why you do each step. An example might be (explanations in the parentheses):

  1. Grab your shoes. (If the storm is bad you will need shoes on to protect your feet.)
  2. Go to the safe spot. (The safe spot will help protect you from harm.)
  3. Put on your helmet. (A bicycle helmet can easily protect a child's head from debris.)
  4. "Turtle Up" and "Flower" (When a child pulls their knees up to their chest and puts their head down with their hands over the back of their head, they resemble a turtle. If all of them put their heads together, they resemble a flower. An Adult can easily place their body over all the children's heads at once.)

It is most important to make sure your child knows where the safe spot is and what to do once they get there. Having a helmet kept at the safe spot and possibly a pair of shoes will help keep children from having to remember those steps. This helps the youngest children. Again, make sure they know where and how to get to the safe spot.

If the child is old enough to read, you can make a list with them. List the items that you might need if a tornado hit and you would have to be prepared. Let the child brainstorm ideas, then talk about each idea and what will work and what to do to make it work. Then ask the child to pick the 3 or 4 items that are the best. Use those items in your safe spot. It will make your child feel like they have contributed to the preparation and make them more responsible to follow the steps during a disaster.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Children learn best through repetition. That means practicing many times will help your child be prepared if and when an emergency really does occur. Talk to them about why you are practicing and that you will practice lots of times. Set up a routine for practicing. Practice every Monday at 7 a.m. or every Thursday before bedtime. Once your child is proficient, you can cut back on practice sessions. Eventually you can practice once a month and make it a surprise drill! Surprise drills will give you an honest evaluation of how well the child really knows the procedure.

Practice drills can be as simple as role play with children.  Pretend what to do in an emergency....over and over...and it becomes practiced.
Practice drills can be as simple as role play with children. Pretend what to do in an emergency....over and over...and it becomes practiced. | Source

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Make A Survival Kit

Get a plastic tub with a lid that latches tightly. Put essentials in it. This will be your family survival kit. Think about what you would desperately need in the event of a major disaster. Water, medications, copies of important documents (birth certificates, Social Security numbers, driver's licenses, insurance policies), bandages, gloves, skin glue, dry snack food items like peanut butter crackers, anti-bacterial hand sanitizer, wind-up flashlight, batteries, AM/FM radio, blanket,and a family photo are all vital. I live near the area of Joplin, Missouri where the May 22, 2011 EF5 tornado totally devastated the town. We lost 161 lives. These are some of the items that many families wished they had available during those first few hours to keep them stable and to help with search and recovery. Keeping these items current are essential!! Medications, batteries, water and food items have expiration dates. Replace them and the family photo on a regular basis. A simple way to remember is to change them every time you change the clocks for Daylight Savings Time. The family photo became a tool for searching for loved ones. It could be critical to have on hand. Don't be caught without it!

Keep Calm

The best thing you can do for a child in the event of a disaster is to remain calm and prepare yourself. Know where to go and who to call in case of an emergency. Have emergency numbers pre-programmed into your phone. The doctor, dentist, insurance agent, hospital and EMT direct phone numbers may actually work better than trying to call 9-1-1 which may be overwhelmed by others. Have your safe spot prepared well ahead of time. Select a location which is in an interior room (for tornadoes) without windows and away from sharp or glass objects. A room on the lowest floor with reinforced walls is best. A basement bathroom is ideal. Have books, battery lights and a comfort item or two in the area ready for children. When practicing this will become a welcoming place to go and then during an actual crisis, it will become a comfort zone. Remember your children will look to you and will reflect your behavior. If you are calm, it will help them remain calm. Likewise, if you are frantic, they will be frantic. Just like children, if we plan ahead, practice and know what to do, we are prepared and disaster becomes only a challenge.

Photo and Text Copyright 2011 Deborah M. Carey

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    • prektjr.dc profile imageAUTHOR

      Debbie Carey 

      7 years ago from Riverton, KS, USA


      Thank you for the compliments, we really do underestimate the intelligence of children and their ability to process information. They are amazing! Thank you for your votes! God Bless!

    • prektjr.dc profile imageAUTHOR

      Debbie Carey 

      7 years ago from Riverton, KS, USA

      Dr. Griz,

      Thanks for the comments! These principals and routines will work with senior citizens and developmentally delayed as well. People don't take the time to explain and prepare like we should. I hope it will help some one!

    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 

      7 years ago from Northern, California

      prektjr~ This hub is so valuable. Children often have a (much) more pro-active mindset than do we adults. Your advice for teaching kids how to mange a tornado or any disaster is clear and manageable for parents. Children have been known to display remarkably clear thinking when given the tools to operate with; you offer this here. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

      Up and useful.



    • profile image

      Dr. Griz 

      7 years ago

      Thanks for the sound advice. Reading it, I can see how it can be applied across several types of disasters for both children and adults.

    • prektjr.dc profile imageAUTHOR

      Debbie Carey 

      7 years ago from Riverton, KS, USA


      What a blessing to never need to use them!! Thanks for the comment! God Bless!

    • prektjr.dc profile imageAUTHOR

      Debbie Carey 

      7 years ago from Riverton, KS, USA


      Thank you for the comments! It does help to remain calm! That isn't always the easiest thing to do either! God Bless!

    • prektjr.dc profile imageAUTHOR

      Debbie Carey 

      7 years ago from Riverton, KS, USA


      Wow...that was a close one! It is amazing how you can be close and totally unharmed! Thanks for the comment! God Bless!

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      Excellent tips! My parents prepared me well for emergencies when I was a kid, and I'm really glad for it, even though I never had to use the advice they gave me. Great Hub!

    • Cardisa profile image

      Carolee Samuda 

      7 years ago from Jamaica

      Getting children to know what can happen during an emergency isn't that hard, just follow your guide and the family should be fine. I love this guide you provided. I also like the fact that you encourage everyone in the family including the kids to remain calm. The knowledge that the child will have gained prior to the disaster would have mentally prepared them and so allowing them to remain calm. Yu help by not panicking.

      Thank you, very well put together.

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image


      7 years ago

      Tornados are not an issue in British Columbia. However, we were driving to my grandparents in P.A. one summer in a motorhome. I was asleep at the time. We were driving and Dad saw it coming and got mom to pull over to the side of the rode and it missed us. If we had been on the road we would have been hit. I think this was in Montana, but I can't rermeber.


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