My father was a first responder, and I came from a firefighting family, so emergency preparedness was a common topic around the house. We kept batteries and flashlights and bottles of water in the basement, had a meeting place and plan should we get separated, checked our smoke detectors twice a year,
The Lauders were firm believers in the adage that “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” And in my youth, that meant being ready for the slim possibility of natural or manmade disaster. Now that I’m raising a child, though, those possibilities don’t seem nearly so slim. With each new tragedy, we’re faced with the question of how to ensure our children’s safety without overwhelming them or causing unnecessary worry and angst.
Show your children that we can always focus on the good, and that we can be the good.
When I was a teacher, we talked all the time about giving kids just enough information, and presenting information as empowering rather than frightening. It seemed like each year we faculty had to revisit this conversation in light of something awful that had happened somewhere else. New policies, heightened security protocol, blackout shades for our windows, and employee trainings followed each new tragedy. I taught first grade when Adam Lanza carried out mass murder at Sandy Hook, and I emptied my classroom closet the next day to ensure that 20 kids could squeeze inside if necessary.
Knowledge is power
But how do you explain to children that you need to practice what to do in case something bad happens? When it’s hard enough just to tell them about the bad things? First, know that knowledge is power. While we may want to shield our children from sad and scary events, they are more confident and competent when we give them the tools they need to navigate their world instead of sheltering them from it. Kids will appreciate the fact that you value their involvement and trust their capacity to understand and respond. And they will rise to the occasion because they know that you believe they can.
Your own attitude and emotions will also give your little ones cues. If you’re feeling apprehensive, they’ll pick up on your anxiety and might become fearful too. But if you can model how to stay calm and cool, they’ll try to emulate that. When you’re matter-of-fact rather than panicked, you demonstrate to children that preparedness is something as routine as brushing your teeth. Rely on stories to help start the conversation, and incorporate role play so kids can explore different emergency scenarios in a safe space. Both activities will also encourage them to ask questions, so you can know what’s on their minds and help them process these big ideas.
There are certain basics to keep in mind when prepping your family. All family members (including children as young as three or four) should know:
- How to call for help.
- When to use emergency numbers.
- To call a designated family contact) if they are separated.
- A preparedness plan for different scenarios – when to shelter in place, when to evacuate, etc.
- Where the emergency kit is stored.
There are people and organizations that are far more knowledgeable than I on this issue, so check out these links for important resources:
Balance information with positive news
Finally, make sure to balance the doom and gloom of emergency preparedness with reminders that beautiful and life-affirming things happen every minute. We want to be prepared, but we don’t want to become obsessed. Nor do we want to make the mistake of believing that all is suffering. Notice instances of human compassion, of communities being uplifted, and of earth stewardship. Show your children that we can always focus on the good, and that we can be the good. That maybe we can’t prevent tragedy or disaster, but that we can help overcome them. Teach them to take care of each other and everything around them. Shine a light on everyday wonder and joy we all have access to, so your kids remain hopeful, so they want to spread that light.
Preparing to be their best selves
You know your children best, so you’re in the best position to discern what they need and how to give it to them. As with any complicated issue, it’s important to be honest, open, and responsive to the cues (questions, concerns, body language) your children give you. And while it might be difficult to approach this conversation, remember that children are more likely to feel empowered and prepared when they have all the information they need. Not only are you possibly saving your child’s life, you’re also fostering independence and confidence that will serve them well later now and down the road.