Got Kids? Preparedness for the Whole Family

This is the final installment in our series on Emergency Preparedness. Next week, we will be sending out a survey that will review and help us assess how we are doing in our preparedness efforts.

Today, we want to talk specifically to households with children.

When preparing for emergencies and disasters with children in mind, you’ll mostly store the same items you would for any adult in your house, with a few modifications (see below).

You’ll also want to provide age-appropriate training for what to do in an emergency. Remember: it is not enough to simply provide your children with the food and supplies necessary to survive and thrive in a disaster; you should also train them how to respond in an emergency situation. Preparing a child of any age to be emotionally and mentally prepared for their all-important first reaction when faced with an emergency situation could save their life.

Here are some considerations for your emergency preparedness plan if you have children:
  1. Food: Generally speaking, although small children can eat the same food adults do, they are often pickier. Include snacks and meal items in your storage pantry that your child will actually eat. Having at least some of their favorite food items on hand will reduce some of the stress they might be experiencing due to the emergency. Make sure you rotate your inventory, as most kid-friendly snacks (e.g., goldfish crackers, fruit snacks, Cheerios, applesauce pouches, etc.) will have expiration dates.
  2. Milk: Even if infants are breastfeeding, some supplemental baby formula may be necessary as stress can cause nursing mothers to have a reduced milk supply. Families with young babies should always have extra formula on hand in case of an emergency. If none is available, you can make your own in an emergency using 13 oz of evaporated milk, 19 oz of boiled water, and 2 tbsp of sugar. Evaporated milk and sugar will last in long-term pantry storage for several years. Powdered milk will do for older children.
  3. Water: As with adults, store at least one gallon per person per day (and more, to include cooking sanitation/laundry, and personal hygiene). Four gallons per person per day may be a more realistic goal for families.
  4. Children’s medications and first aid: Since children cannot take adult doses of over-the-counter medications, make sure you have children’s versions of medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil), vitamins (C, D, multi), cough syrup, Pepto Bismol, and antihistamine (Benadryl) in your medicine cupboard, as well as a thermometer, Bandaids, antibiotic crème (Neosporin), humidifier, medicine droppers and syringes, etc.
  5. Personal hygiene items: Don’t forget children’s toothpaste (since it is not recommended children use adult toothpaste before age six), baby shampoo and soap, lotion, diaper rash crème, etc. And diapers, if you have little ones!
  6. Pedialyte and Pediasure: If your children are vomiting or having diarrhea, they can become dehydrated more quickly than adults, and will need electrolytes. Pedialyte is available as a liquid but also in convenient powder packages that can be added to water. Pediasure is a quick way to get extra calories into your child if they are not wanting or able to eat the food provided. These two staples are a good choice for both your long-term and short-term preparations.
  7. Suckers: These are great to have in your preparedness pantry. If you need to keep a child quiet and occupied, suckers will generally do the trick and last about 20-30 minutes.
  8. Toys and games: Even just some small, new items like coloring books and crayons or markers, stickers, Matchbox cars, Legos, animal figurines, etc. can serve as a distraction from the stress of an emergency.

Practicing Preparedness Skills with Children
Children learn through play; it helps them build a sense of their own identities and abilities, and learn essential life (and survival) skills at the same time—like problem-solving, teamwork, self-reliance, and self-confidence. Play also helps kids develop the motor skills, confidence, and cognitive ability to deal with real-life emergency situations.

Following are some fun preparedness activities you can do with your kids. You can adapt and adjust the ideas for the ages of your children and for the specifics of your home, the time of year, and your location.
  • Have a “lights out” drill. Turn off all lights and ask your children to locate flashlights and candles without your help.
  • Have a “no-tech” entertainment night. That means no phones, no TVs, and no computers. Encourage board games, reading, music, and good old conversation as alternatives.
  • Purchase a hand-powered “crank” radio and show your kids how to use it.
  • Conduct an energy treasure hunt. Invite children to search for energy wasters in your home and outbuildings such as unused cords plugged in, drafty doors and windows, dripping faucets, and appliances and electronics left on when not needed. Learning to live with less electricity and how to survive without it are important skills to teach your children.
  • Teach them how to build and cook over a campfire outdoors.
  • Practice navigational skills—without a GPS or Google Maps. Teach kids how to use a compass and paper maps; turn it into a game by taking a hike and finding your way without electronics. Encourage them to make their own maps of your neighborhood and even the surrounding region if they can.
  • Teach your children how to find and purify water. On a hike, show them how to look for signs of water. Point out how water runs downhill and direct them to pools of water or steams. Play “I Spy” for animal tracks, keeping in mind that well-worn paths often lead to a water source. Then, once you find water, teach them how to use a filtration device. You can make this demonstration a hands-on science experiment!
  • Involve your kids in gardening, learning to grow at least some of your family’s own food. Children can help select seeds, plant seeds indoors, transplant new starts outdoors, weed, water, fertilize, and harvest.

Getting your kids interested in emergency preparedness so they can develop the mental, physical, and emotional skills necessary to survive a disaster is not difficult, and can be downright fun! The key is to be casual and encouraging, not overly intense. While it is important that your children understand the dangers and risks associated with a crisis, you don’t want to frighten them.

Starting early and working consistently toward your goal will make it easier to teach disaster preparedness a few steps at a time, without making it overwhelming. Every family is different, and every family’s emergency preparedness plan will be different—and that’s okay.  

Encouragement from Scripture
Encourage your kids the same way we ALL need to be encouraged, remembering that we need not fear; our God is with us and will care for us at all times, in every situation!
Isaiah 41:10
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

HF Preparedness Leadership Team

Action Steps:
  • Our household is building both short-term and long-term pantry storage, with our children in mind, including food and snack items they need and will actually eat.
  • We have enough water stored for both drinking and hygiene purposes for our whole family.
  • We have children’s first aid, medication, and personal hygiene supplies on hand.
  • We are intentionally spending time teaching our children skills they might need in an emergency situation.
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