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  • The Pillowcase Project - Preparing Children for Emergencies

    How much of your stuff can you fit in your pillowcase?

    No, I’m not talking about your major haul from trick-or-treating at Halloween. I’m talking about in the event of an emergency, what do you have around the house that you would need to take with you that can fit inside a pillowcase?

    Pillowcase Project - Red Cross Pillowcase Project via Red Cross

    The Red Cross has a program called the Pillowcase Project in which children learn all about local hazards, basic coping skills, as well as family and personal preparedness. One of the ways this program helps children learn about emergency preparedness is by using their pillowcase as an impromptu emergency kit. The pillowcase makes it easy to carry their belongings and emergency supplies, and they can even decorate their pillowcase with useful information, such as steps to take during an emergency.

    FEMA has a printout of things children should have in their emergency kits. Items include toothbrush and toothpaste, change of clothes for three days, water, food, and flashlights with extra batteries. The list also includes comfort items, including books, games, puzzles, and a favorite stuffed animal or blanket.

    Having these personal toys can help bring a feeling of normalcy to an otherwise frightening situation. If you think it will be tough for you to go without your modern comforts, just think what it must be like for them! These comforting toys can really go a long way in helping your children cope during an emergency.

    Make sure your children know what they should bring before an emergency happens. This means you will need to find a way to go over this information with your children multiple times until they understand and know exactly what it is they need to do.

    When discussing disasters with your kids, try not to alarm them overly much. Staying calm yourself during an emergency can really help with your children’s demeanor.

    In the event of an emergency, swift action must be taken. There usually isn’t a lot of warning time before an evacuation happens. In the case of a fire, evacuation must be immediate. That means there won’t be time to decide what to take, or even scarier, which of their favorite toys to leave behind.

    Of course, children aren’t always going to be at home when a disaster comes. Besides teaching them about things to grab at home, also teach them about proper ways to act at school, their friend’s house, or anywhere else they may be.

    Teach your children how to properly prepare for emergencies. The Pillowcase Project is just one method, but there are other ways to teach your children. Find the method that works best for you and your children, and makes sure they know what to do when an emergency happens.

     

    How do you help your children prepare for disasters? Let us know in the comments!

     

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  • Tips for Helping Children Cope During Disasters

    On September 8, as part of National Preparedness Month, PBS Kids ran a disaster-themed episode of Arthur, a cartoon aimed at school-age children. On the show, all the characters had to deal with the aftermath of a hurricane: family members leaving, homes and businesses destroyed, staying in a shelter, helping others. The children also faced the emotional consequences of the disaster.

    In the aftermath of a disaster, taking emotional care of yourself and your family can be hard. Yet, especially for children, that care is vital.

    Helping Children Cope - Images“How much are young children affected by events that take place around them? A lot,” according to Zero to Three, a nonprofit organization for early childhood development. Even though they may not understand the meaning of what they see or hear, children absorb the images that surround them and are deeply impacted by the emotions of the people they rely on for love and security.”

    A great way to take care of children emotionally is let them help with emergency preparation.

    In the Arthur episode, the character Muffy happily described how her family prepared for the upcoming hurricane.

    “Oh, the Crosswires are super prepared. We have a generator, tons of spring water, both sparkling and distilled, and three cases of smoked trout.”

    Children can help make emergency kits. They can practice fire and other disaster drills. They can learn emergency contact information.

    “Social science research and anecdotal evidence support the idea that children who have learned about emergency preparedness experience less anxiety during an actual emergency or disaster,” according to Ready.gov.

    Helping Children Cope Turning off the television is a great way in helping children cope with disasters. Too many negative images can really pay a toll on their emotional well-being.

    After a disaster, turn off the TV and be careful following other media, say Cynthia Moore and Paula Rauch, authors of an e-book about helping children cope that was written for the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing. The need to follow every update can exacerbate adult anxiety, which children sense. Young children may think repeated images are new ones, which can make a disaster seem even worse than it is, they wrote.

    Instead, listen to children and talk to them after a disaster. For young children, that means playing with them, naming feelings and helping them color or tell stories.

    “Answer children’s questions according to their level of understanding: ‘Yes, a bad thing happened but we are keeping you safe,’” said the Zero to Three guide.

    Children Serving - Helping Children Cope Having children serve those effected by disaster is a great way in helping them cope with the same event.

    A great way to help older children cope is to get them involved helping others. It can be as simple as writing letters or making cookies for friends, or helping collect supplies for others in need. On Arthur, the title character built a web site to help pet owners reunite with their pets.

    “Helping can be incredibly healing and empowering,” according to Ready.gov.

    Talking is also therapeutic for older children. If they have suffered a loss, let them know the trouble won’t last forever. Keep it casual and find another trusted adult if they won’t talk to you, said a Ready.gov guide, “Helping Children Cope.”

    With all ages, “bear in mind that talking with your child involves more listening than talking,” Moore and Rauch wrote.

    When taking care of children, don’t forget to take care of you, recommended the guide from Zero to Three. Get back to a routine as soon as possible. Share feelings with family and friends. Eat well, exercise and get rest. If necessary, get professional help. Take time to enjoy your children.

    You can find all sorts of resources online to help children prepare for and cope with disasters. Here are a few.

    The e-book, Community Crises and Disasters, by Cynthia Moore and Paula Rauch, is a guide to help families deal with disaster. It was written for the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing. The authors are health care professionals who work in a family crisis center at Massachusetts General Hospital.

    Ready.gov has a section devoted to children with games and resources for parents, educators and children.

    PBS Kids made a companion site for its emergency preparedness specials. It has videos, activities, a coloring page, and guides for adults.

     

    - Melissa

     

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  • How to Prepare Your Children for Emergencies

    Families are beginning to prepare to send children back to school – 57 million children. An estimated 12 million children attend child care and pre-kindergarten programs.

    What happens if disaster strikes while the children are in school or child care?

    According to an annual report by Save the Children, 32 states require schools and child care facilities to meet four disaster preparedness standards.

    69 Million Kids Save the Children

    “In total, 18 states and D.C. can still do much more to protect children,” said Rich Bland, who heads advocacy and public policy for Save the Children’s U.S. programs.

    Three of the disaster preparedness standards require child care facilities to develop written emergency plans. Those plans cover how and when to evacuate to a safer location, how to communicate with parents and reunite parents and children, and how to help children with special needs. The fourth standard requires all K-12 schools to develop a written, multi-hazard disaster plan.

    The state I live in requires each school to hold monthly drills for one of twelve emergency scenarios, including fire, earthquake, chemical spill, flood and other severe weather and lock down for violence.

    In one school district, for example, teachers get told about a bomb threat with the intercom notice, “Teachers, remember the Saturday faculty meeting.”

    This year, the elementary school two of my daughters attend had to see how well its disaster communication plan worked. A man fired a gun and barricaded himself into his parents’ home less than a mile from the school. Though the school didn’t lock down, the principal communicated safety information throughout the morning. Of course, since I’d asked to receive notifications by e-mail, I didn’t learn about the event until after it ended.

    Schools in my state must give parents and staff information about their emergency plans. Be aware, they don’t have to tell much. One school’s emergency information is two sentences long:

    “In the case of an emergency you are asked to stay calm and follow the instructions of your teacher. In case of an actual emergency when student pick up is required, students will only be released to parents or legal guardians.”

    It gives no information about where to find children in case the school gets evacuated – which, to be fair, may not be immediately known – or the procedure parents must follow to pick up their children.

    Parents, you can prepare your children for emergencies for when you are away from them.

    First, as parents we can make sure our school or child care provider has emergency plans in place and we know what they are. This checklist from Save the Children lists questions we can ask administrators. We also need to ask if local emergency officials have copies of the plans.

    Second, we can make sure both our children and their schools have emergency contact information.

    Schools and child care providers need at least two ways to reach us and we need to know how to reach them. We need to give them an emergency contact person who lives outside our area.

    They need to be aware of any of our children’s special needs. We can ask permission to send emergency snacks and water.

    Info Card Save the Children

    Finally, Save the Children has a free, printable emergency contact card. It includes a child’s name, age, home address and phone number, medical information and emergency contacts. The card fits in a child’s backpack or wallet. We should teach our children how to contact us and where to meet if we get separated.

    While your children’s schools should have emergency plans in place, you must still do what we can to help prepare your children for disasters should they happen while we are separated from them.

     

    What emergency preparations do you have in place to help you prepare your children from disaster?

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