kids and disasters

Posted by: bacpacjac

kids and disasters - 03/12/11 08:54 PM

ok, changing gears a little bit... my kids have just realized that we live within a 10km range of two nuclear power plants, similar to the evacuation zone in Japan. a news report also just informed them that one of those plants is on a fault line. Though it's a pretty quiet fault on lake ontario, we did have a little quake (4/5ish) in the spring. it was pretty minor but the kids remember it and are now connecting the dots. in light of what's happening in Japan, they're asking about what would likely happen if a melt-down happened here.

our 7 year old is tuning in and out of the discussion, more interested in his plans for March break. the 20 year old, on the other hand, is becoming preoccupied.

what do we do? the tv has been turned off the news channel, and the teenager is being encouraged to turn her iphone and laptop to something other than the news. we've talked about the potential emergencies we could face. the area we live in is pretty safe in terms of natural disasters. we face snow/ice in the winter, heat emergencies in the summer. a train derailment or nuclear accident are our most likely bug-out scenarios. the kids are pretty in-tune with our bug-in plans and supplies. We're got a practiced plan for fire, so are using that as our starting point for this nuclear bug-out talk. We're re-packing our 72-hr family BOB, to help them feel more involved and empowered, and are planning an evac drill. I thought about taking them to the nuclear info centre too, to help ease their minds about how safe it really is.

any other ideas about how to help kids process something like - an actual world event and/or family prep - this without becoming overwhelmed by it?
Posted by: Eric

Re: kids and disasters - 03/12/11 09:56 PM

I think Izzy is on the right track for the younger child. My 6 yr old daughter gets wound up over thunder storms and tornados and all I have found that works is a two part approach 1) don't worry about it Mom and Dad will keep you safe and 2) giving her a little control over things - here is our plan, here is your stuff, you know what to do. Of course that is also turning her into a serious flashlight collector (unintended side effect).

I don't have much for the older kid. If they are good at science and math I would encourage them to learn the numbers associated with this. Probabilities would help with perspective but most people have trouble grasping the math involved. The other set of numbers to look at would be learn about radiation levels - what is background level, what is safe, how much exposure from an airplane flight, how much from the coal fired plant in the next county etc.

Nuclear power and radiation have bad reps due to people not understanding the numbers involved. Not saying Nuclear power is perfect, but it is far from the bogey man that some make it out to be. Cars are far more dangerous than nuclear power. smile

Posted by: bacpacjac

Re: kids and disasters - 03/12/11 10:34 PM

thanks guys! we're definitely letting them take the lead and are not proactively bringing up the discussion. we're only answering the 7 year old's questions, in simple, reassuring terms, bookmarked with "where we live is very safe", "everything will be ok" and "mom and dad will take care of you". we're not letting it be a focal point for the family, just making sure they know we're safe and prepared. my son does have adhd (i'm flattered that you remembered Izzy) so he got over it almost right away, just tunes in sometimes when his sister is talking about it. managing her impact on him is almost the biggest job.

on the upside, she's already put her psk and fak in her edc backpack again. wink
Posted by: Art_in_FL

Re: kids and disasters - 03/12/11 11:08 PM

I know a lot of people with kids take forced moves and evacuations who simply explain that they are taking a vacation. If going out into the sticks, camping. The kids, if not burdened with the risk and tension, seem to like the change of setting. This stage seems to work for the first few days.

When the tension and danger, and forced nature, of the situation become palpable, and the vacation aspects pale, shifting the emphasis toward regularity and structure seems to help. One of the better ways of helping kids cope is to provide outlets for kids to express their fears and doubt. With young kids, and often people not so young, it is often helpful to have materials ready for them to draw what they feel.

The big bargain on drawing materials is a 3' wide roll of white butcher paper, colored pencils and crayons. Unlike markers, which often dry out in storage, these materials store pretty much indefinitely. You want to watch the maximum temperature on the wax crayons but up to 100F you are okay.
Posted by: kd7fqd

Re: kids and disasters - 03/12/11 11:22 PM

Note to self add crayons to edc, and car kits
He: Not for the kids, they're for me
She: (rolls her eyes)

"Mr Bus driver jimmie took my crayons"
Posted by: bacpacjac

Re: kids and disasters - 03/12/11 11:52 PM

LOL@ kd7fqd! Thanks for the tip Art. it's a great idea and one that i should use more often when something's bugging him. he's getting more expressive as he gets older but we all have trouble finding words sometimes.
Posted by: Pete

Re: kids and disasters - 03/13/11 04:44 AM

I'll give you my honest reply. But it might not be what you are expecting.

First, I totally agree on not overloading kids. I don't go out of my way to highlight things like the Japanese earthquake. But i will answer questions if they ask them. My 7 year old just plopped onto the couch tonight and asked me about the pictures coming in from Japan. I was honest with her, but without dramatizing things. I just told her that the country had gone through a very large earthquake and there was lots of damage. I gave it to her matter-of-fact. She watched for maybe 60 secs, then went off to play with her toys. She didn't dwell on it.

I don't intend to insulate my kids from this stuff. I just teach them that it's going on - so deal with it and move on. In my opinion the nice old world of yesterday is behind us. It's tostada. Our kids will grow up in a world where they see a lot more of this stuff. My goal is to try and teach them to have a positive mindset and to be survivors. They can still be happy.

other Pete
Posted by: Lono

Re: kids and disasters - 03/13/11 04:46 AM

I get the sense that you'd like to hide the complexity of a nuclear accident from your 7 year old, and I'm fine with that - what I'm not in line with is keeping the reality of how to respond in the event an accident occurs. Take a house fire as an example - do you have a plan for what happens if your kitchen catches fire? Have you taught your kids to get out of the house immediately, and assemble at a pre-designated place (the front yard or a neighbor's yard)? These are reasonable plans and precautions for a 7 year old. If they need to understand why they need to get out of a house on fire, explain that fire is very dangerous, it moves and gets much worse quickly, and tell them to be brave, stay or crawl low, and get OUT of the house right away.

Your local Fire Department should have lots of age appropriate instruction available to fill in the rough spots around my version and the local fire station should be happy to run an exercise for your kids or their classroom, but my point is for your 7 year old, treat a nuclear accident like a fire, which you want them to be able to relate to. Explain to them that nuclear accidents are extremely unlikely, but as we see in Japan, even the unlikely can happen, and we need to be ready. If we're ready, we can take the right action, and remain safe. The best plan for a nuclear accident is to stay in place until told to evacuate. Who will evacuate your 7 year old? Either you, a loved one, or possibly your child's school. Find out what the school's protocol is for nuclear accidents, and get involved. And assure your child that you will be there come hell or high water in any evacuation. You can make your next trip out of town a "practice evacuation", and take some of the mystery and potential anxiety out of the trip. But there's no need to keep this kind of thing from your kids.
Posted by: Pete

Re: kids and disasters - 03/13/11 06:31 PM

Lono ... Very good point. Practical. I like that.

I am holding a drill tonight with my family on how to respond to a really violent earthquake. We will go over what to do, and where to go. This kind of response will be much harder - and scarier for the kids - if it happens in the middle of the night. So i agree with you 100% ... this drill must be practiced. I will have to set some kind of regular training with this drill, so the family doesn't forget it.

We will also need to revise our plan for meet-up points. If a big earthquake hits during the daytime, we are all in scattered locations and need to get together. We had a plan on how to do this, but since then we have moved houses and the kids have switched schools. So we need to revise that plan as well.

Thanks very much for the top about dealing with household fires. Our home does have a fire extuingisher, but I need to teach everyone how to use it. And we need to keep it more accessible than it is right now.

other Pete
Posted by: bacpacjac

Re: kids and disasters - 03/13/11 06:55 PM

you guys are bang on. we don't want to overload him and make him worried or preoccupied about all the bad things that might happen, but we don't want to insulate him either. he needs practical, real information, targeted to his 7 year old brain and emotions. in some ways we let him drive the conversation, (i.e, questions about what's happening around the world) but we're proactive about teaching him too. (i.e. fire safety) it's a fine balance.

yes, we do have a very specific plan for a household fire, and we do run drills regularly. we're using that plan, combined with our bug-in plan, to address the possibility of a nuclear accident.

he just changed schools, and though he's still in the same school district, this one is farther from one plant, more in the middle, so the evac plan may be different. both schools run nuclear evac drills twice a year, and fire drills monthly. the principle of his new school has promised me a copy of their nuke plan when school resumes after march break. by then, i'll hopefully have a new job and we can redraw our family plan.

i guess what i'm stuck on is finding a balance between informing and preparing him, and overloading him and making him overly worried.
Posted by: Lono

Re: kids and disasters - 03/13/11 07:07 PM

Originally Posted By: Pete
I am holding a drill tonight with my family on how to respond to a really violent earthquake. We will go over what to do, and where to go. This kind of response will be much harder - and scarier for the kids - if it happens in the middle of the night. So i agree with you 100% ... this drill must be practiced. I will have to set some kind of regular training with this drill, so the family doesn't forget it.

We will also need to revise our plan for meet-up points. If a big earthquake hits during the daytime, we are all in scattered locations and need to get together. We had a plan on how to do this, but since then we have moved houses and the kids have switched schools. So we need to revise that plan as well.

Thanks very much for the top about dealing with household fires. Our home does have a fire extuingisher, but I need to teach everyone how to use it. And we need to keep it more accessible than it is right now.

Yer welcome. Don't worry if your first meeting with your family on earthquake preparedness results in them asking more questions than you can answer right away - make a list, and address the issues they raise. Kids are smarter than we ever give them credit for, at times they think of things quite practically and in helpful ways. I remember my 6 year old #1 son raised an issue about keeping car keys accessible after an EQ - we kept spares in a kitchen drawer like 75% of people, what if that part of the house is under rubble? Anyone's preparedness plan can use some improvement.

EQ planning is a great lead-in to nuclear power plant safety issues, because the same meet up plans probably apply to both. Your school should have a plan and resources for caring for kids in their care - know how it will work, and how you will get your child safely home from school, and it will give you a measure of comfort in the event of an actual EQ. The school isn't as likely to evacuate after an EQ as they might in the even to of a nuclear incident, but they are still in custody of your child, and you'll want to make sure your kids understand that while they may be evacuated by the school, their parents are evacuating at the same time, and will be reunited with them just as soon as possible. Relating any kind of incident to something they know - a field trip etc - so that they aren't wondering or anxious about where they are going, when will they get home etc.

I still have fun doing refresher courses with expiring fire extinguishers every 2-3 years, this year we'll have a session with my extended family at a bbq for my daughter's birthday in July. On all these training events, strike while the iron is hot, get the knowledge into their thoughts while they are thinking of this stuff - I think it can reduce anxiety over the events they see on TV because they can see just how the adults in their lives might react in the event of a similar emergency closer to home. If you can maintain an air of confidence, chances are they will too.
Posted by: Eric

Re: kids and disasters - 03/13/11 07:10 PM

Too much information is context sensitive (at least with my daughter). On a good day with no threats of bad weather we can discuss thunderstorms and tornados and how to prepare and react with no problems. A little bit of rain and lightning and all she wants / needs is comfort with very little rationale discussion. So I educate when all is calm and provide support/diversions when things aren't so calm.

Everyone is different but I'm sure you can judge how much is too much for your son as circumstances change.

Posted by: Art_in_FL

Re: kids and disasters - 03/13/11 10:43 PM

In my travels, reading and talking to disaster responders, and my limited experience, I've come to understand that when having drills and training kids you do well to soft-pedal the danger, while not denying it entirely, and make it a game.

If the kids have fun during drills they look forward to them and are open to learning. If you push the danger they get frightened and upset. They cue off of the adults. If the adults express profound fear they tend to magnify it. People have to remember that if it frightens an adult kids, smaller and more vulnerable, have even more to fear. If the kids get frightened the drills become an unpleasant experience they will seek to avoid. There is also the danger that if and when the real thing comes you may have made it so scary that they freeze, hide under their beds, or do other perfectly understandable, but counterproductive actions.

Keep it light. Make it a game. Drill a little bit at a time. Remember that kids have limited attention spans, figure one or two minutes per year of age, and a limited ability to deal with stress. Talking about death and destruction is stressful, even for adults. Kids can be remarkably resilient and show surprising amounts of courage when the day comes but don't wear them out in practice.

You can motivate and scare adults into learning some of the basics and marginally complying, I have my doubts how effective fear really is long term as a motivator, even for adults, but kids tend to shut down.
Posted by: Susan

Re: kids and disasters - 03/14/11 04:28 AM

Not having kids, I would tend to keep to the low-key end and just say something like, "If it gets bad, we'll grab our stuff and leave, then come back when it's safe".

While it's simplistic, it also avoids dwelling on the unlikely scenarios, but does tell them that there are options. It's nice that you don't live on an island, you can go as far as you need to.

Posted by: Lono

Re: kids and disasters - 03/14/11 12:02 PM

Lots of good observations here - especially keep it simple. Kids are supervised most of their waking hours by adults and older kids, there's not alot of reason to divert from that caretaker role with kids and disasters. They function best when in groups of kids with adults along (despite appearances). If you watch a fire or EQ drill, they move out the door, duck, dive etc just fine, and if their precious little attention spans work, they'll do the same in the event of an emergency. As parents, the Japan EQ is probably an opportunity to remind them to pay attention to the teacher during their safety drills, to listen carefully, and cooperate and follow directions, for everyone's safety. That's probably all they need. We drill to embed how we want people to react in a real emergency.

I encounter kids who have been through disasters about every other day lately, mostly house and apartment fires. Often they were woken up, pulled from bed, and hustled out of their homes to safety. Then in a matter of minutes, their rooms, clothing, toys, Nintendos and every bit of their life has been reduced to ashes, and their new reality is a hotel room and bag of belongings, if they are lucky to have that. That rapid change of circumstances requires some monitoring, especially of younger kids. The smoke and fire itself can be especially traumatic. The favorite animal or blanket, sometimes a family pet, may not be there anymore. Parents and maybe a mental health provider will have to spend some time talking them through their experiences, getting them back to okay. At the Red Cross, since I deal mainly with weekend and after hours calls, we treat it with a teddy bear, and hope that parents and other providers can pick up on these issues. Kids I see haven't fully processed everything from their own disaster yet, but I know they are amazingly resilient if supported and encouraged to deal with things.
Posted by: capsu78

Re: kids and disasters - 03/15/11 07:23 PM

Since it is coming up in a couple of weeks, maybe incorporating some of the techniques fron "The Great Shake Out" might show how school districts etc are preparing in the Mid West US along the New Madris fault:

It has some good K-12 resources that might provide a framework for age appropriate conversations with even a 7 year old.
Posted by: bacpacjac

Re: kids and disasters - 03/16/11 11:21 AM

great ideas, all. thanks!
Posted by: Mark_F

Re: kids and disasters - 03/16/11 02:46 PM

DS, 9 y.o., refers to our BOB's as "camping stuff" ... I smile and go on since he is mostly correct. After all, what is a bug out but an impromptu camping trip (I know there's possibly more to it than that but that's enough for him atm).

The older ones need to know a bit more. They can do their own research ... and should be encouraged to consult more than one source.