A fire, earthquake or other disaster is a very frightening concept for a child. Many children have seen bad things happen to family members or on the news and worry about what would happen if an emergency occurred in their own home. Preparation and planning are key in helping your child understand that, if there was a real emergency, things would be all right. Practicing what to do during a disaster makes children feel informed and empowered. Follow a clear plan to prepare and reassure your children in case of an emergency.
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Prepare your family for a possible disaster. Store food and water, keep flashlights and fire extinguishers in accessible places, install smoke alarms near bedrooms, learn and teach basic first aid skills. Install safety ladders outside a child's window in case there is a need for evacuation.
Show your child the things you have done to prepare. This will help the child understand that, if a disaster occurred, things would be all right.
Make a plan. Draw a map of the house and have your child help in making the evacuation plan. Show your child the exits on the map and a place outside where the entire family should gather in case of a fire. Illustrate the escape plan with arrows, showing what routes the child should follow. Tell them what to do in case the exit is blocked. Draw tables or other safe places in the rooms that your child should hide beneath in case of an earthquake.
Teach your child what to do. If there is a fire, instruct your child to touch the door to see if it's hot before opening it. Teach the "Stop, Drop and Roll" technique to extinguish fire from clothes. Practice this skill while also reminding children to stay low to the ground if there is smoke. Let them hear what the fire alarm sounds like. Have them curl up and sit still in an earthquake-safe zone, then follow the evacuation procedure when it's safe. All of these actions will help them feel empowered and prepared, and keep them safe in an emergency.
Practice your plan. Have each person go to his/her bedroom and pretend there is a disaster. Ask everyone to follow the planned procedure. Practice your plan over and over from different places in the house. When the children are comfortable with this plan, practice alternative ways to exit the house. Allow children to safely practice climbing out of windows and down or up escape ladders.
Memorise phone numbers. Even young children can memorise 911. Older children could memorise the phone number of a relative, neighbour or the police station. Keep a chart of necessary phone numbers on your refrigerator or other easily accessible place.
Continue to practice. Review and practice your plan at least once every six months. This will refresh your child's memory and help him/her feel comfortable with what should be done in case of an emergency.
Tips and warnings
- Under safe conditions, familiarise children with the smell of natural gas so that they can identify it if the need arises.
- Teach older children to use the fire extinguisher and how to turn off water, power and gas supply to the house.
- Install safety ladders and other equipment according to the manufacturer's instructions.
- Remind your children that they must evacuate first, leave everything behind, and call 911 from a neighbour's house. Also warn and instruct children that they are not to use the safety ladder for purposes other than an emergency.
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