For any good parent looking to prepare for the worst, making sure your kids are as ready as you are is surely a high priority. It can be difficult in some ways to talk to children about emergency preparedness, however. Some parents fear that they’ll scare their kids, others that their children won’t guard their tongues and perhaps spread a reputation for “crazy survivalist” amongst their friends. However, any child that is going to be expected to do anything besides giggle and have their diaper changed needs to have some manner of mental and emotional preparation for a potential emergency, and as their parent you are the best person to assist them. We’ve assembled these quick tips to help you talk to your children about preparedness properly in order to encourage you to take the time to discuss the matter with them.
#10: Don’t Underestimate Them
You would be surprised at how much a child really learns from their parents even if they’re not being directly taught. A kid can figure out some of what’s going on when their parents buy a few dozen rolls of toilet paper, two months worth of canned goods, and a brick or two of ammunition periodically. They will also hear you talking and discussing things, or see what you’re researching online when you thought they were busy playing around behind you. Kids are curious, and secrets are exciting to them.
Furthermore, you would probably also be surprised at how much even a younger child can comprehend even if they are somewhat limited by their maturity. Although you will want to carefully select your words when you discuss preparedness, children are capable of handling quite a bit if you present it honestly and correctly. Only you know the maturity and relative readiness of your children, but try to give it a second thought before dismissing them as “too young” or “not ready”.
#9: Be Honest and Direct, but Guard Your Words Somewhat
These may sound like contradictions, so let me elaborate. Some parents attempt to tiptoe around the issue, putting the kids in a bubble of “it’s nothing to worry about we’ll protect you” and other pleasant phrases without much concrete detail involved. Although I think those are absolutely part of the conversation, it is just as important to give them a sense of the weight of what you’re discussing. Think of it like introducing a child to a weapon of some kind: you want to be very serious and impress on the kid that this is not a toy, but you don’t break out the photos of some kid who had his brains blown out when he went playing with daddy’s gun. So you might not go into the gory details of catastrophe, rioters and looters walking around etc but you might well tell them that the power would go out for a long time, you might not have a grocery store anymore etc.
Above all, do not just give vague allusions to a potential disaster, a quick hug, and then walk off. Giving a kid all the fuel he needs for his overactive imagination to create nightmares is not the appropriate action!
#8: Give Them a Sense of Ownership in the Preparations
People teach responsibility all the time with a pet or a mini-garden, so why not with some small part of your preps? Put him in charge of helping you rotate canned foods, maybe even make a game with rewards for finding an expired can. Maybe allocate a part of their allowance or earned money towards a useful preparedness tool like a knife or a cheap water filter bottle that they can use. Make them feel like they are apart of the proceedings rather than just a spectator along for the ride.
#7: Let Them Put Their Fears to You, and Assure Them of Your Protection and Help
Above I said that this shouldn’t be the entire conversation, but you should definitely make it clear that although disaster may come, you will do everything you can to keep them safe and protected. For the record, this is as true for the 15 year old as it is for the 6 year old, though the way you put it may be different. There are few things more comforting than knowing that at least two people will have your back, particularly those that care for and love you most, so any child will be greatly encouraged by this. Furthermore, letting them express their fears to you can also allow you assuage them somewhat and calm overactive imaginations.
#6: Make Sure That They Understand Reasonable Secrecy
To be clear, this doesn’t mean that you trust your 5 year old with every secret you may have. Some kids, particularly those lacking yet in maturity, just won’t know when to keep their mouth shut particularly around inquisitive friends or relatives. That said, there should still be an idea given that they should either avoid the question or refuse to answer (usually better for older kids and teens who really get it) or to pass the buck onto you (better for younger kids) particularly in the case of authority figures. Obviously the degree of secrecy depends on how circumspect you feel the need to be, but I doubt anyone wants it trumpeted that they have lots of expensive stuff tucked into their house regardless of the reason.
#5: Clear Up Stereotypes and Misconceptions
Several members of my family have been preppers for awhile, and they know the truth from the myth when it comes to how a real preparedness-minded person lives on a day to day basis. We could all get together and laugh at some of the ridiculous antics of the TV “Doomsday Preppers” because we all understood the reality and rejected the negative stereotypes presented. Kids who just happened to hear or see something about “nutso survivalist types” aren’t going to be so discerning unfortunately, so be sure to take the time to explain how you’re different from those crazies.
#4: Use Minor Disasters as Lessons, Both Direct and Indirect
Make a point of showing the kids how much better it is to have extra flashlights and batteries, plenty of pre-made meals, and a way to clean your water when the power goes out during floods, tornadoes, thunderstorms and other relatively minor disasters. Some families even simulate power outages, making a game of “surviving” a day in their house without a TV, dishwasher, running water or the usual amenities. The reactions I’ve heard about from kids have been largely positive, at least after they finish weeping over the unmoving corpse of their powerless Xbox. For many of them it’s almost like camping out, plus they get to try out all the cool toys and gadgets you’ve been amassing.
#3: Ask Them to Add to Lists of Gear or Supplies
When I was younger, my siblings and I were asked to provide our list of “Comfort Foods” (candy basically) that would be kept back to be used during some emergency. Even knowing we’d probably never eat them, it was still fun to be asked for advice by my parents and it let us get into the proper mindset. We had to consider how long they lasted, how easily they could be carried, and so on. Furthermore, who knows they might mention something that you forgot!
#2: Live a Life That Fits What You Say
Hypocrisy tears at trust, and trust is paramount when you’re discussing disaster preparedness from a family perspective. If you regularly talk of being ready for emergencies, keeping stock properly dated, etc but fail to maintain those processes it will confuse your message. You have to lead your children in what you wish to see happen.
#1: Remember to Let Them Be Kids
In the end, a child of a preparedness-minded family ought to benefit from it rather than suffer. However some parents in their efforts to keep them safe and secure take ridiculous steps that isolate their children or try to get them running tactical drills at age 10. If the kid is into that sure go ahead, but understand if your child isn’t 100% on board with the preparedness train and deal with it reasonably. Treat them like children first, and then in that mindset do what you can to keep them properly prepared.