A lot can happen in five years. Think about how your life has changed since five years ago. Were you married? Did you have children? Were you expecting? Did you still believe that when your bundle of joy arrived you’d be able to shower regularly and wear nice clothes (Ha!)? Those are some major life changes. Also consider how the world around us has changed in just a few short years. Five years ago, there was no such thing as Pinterest, the King of Pop was still alive while Justin Bieber was “Justin, who?”
But even more important than these changes are the drastic developmental milestones that a young child reaches in her first five years of life. We know that 90 percent of a child’s brain is developed by the time he is 5–years-old and this critical period can determine her future success in school and in life. This means that from the start of a child’s life she needs to be exposed to language and books, building a foundation for cognitive and executive functioning skills. But the first five years is also a time to develop core values of safety and responsibility.
Did you know that less than half of American families have an emergency plan? That means our little ones are at risk of being harmed or separated from their parents should a disaster strike. But as parents, we can turn the tide on this issue and start raising a disaster-ready generation – a generation that grows up in prepared households and adopts these values for themselves and their future families. We can start by creating a plan that caters to the specific needs of our youngest children.
Here Are Five Specific Needs of Young Children to Consider During Emergencies:
- They have limited mobility. Infants and toddlers may not be able to walk, making it difficult to evacuate should you have more than one child in your care. Make a plan that includes bringing a carrier or stroller and ask your child care providers about their evacuation plans. Plan ahead for young walkers who may move slowly and need to hold an adult’s hand.
How to prepare: Teach your children how to evacuate and tell them to hold hands to keep from getting separated.
- They have unique physical needs. Children’s bodies are smaller and less developed, putting them at greater risk for harm during an emergency. For example, children have thinner skin and take more breaths per minute than adults, making them more susceptible to harmful chemicals from smoke or gas leaks. They require smaller doses of medications and easy-to-digest nutrition in many cases. These needs require special supplies.
How to prepare: In your disaster supplies kit, include child-friendly items such as child-strength medications, diapers, bottles and healthy snacks.
- They have unique emotional needs. Young children lack sophisticated emotional processes that allow them to cope with crises like adults. Because they lack life experience and understanding, it can be extra difficult for children to make meaning of a disaster. A child’s language limitations can make it difficult for her to express fear, sadness or anger in a healthy way.
How to prepare: Talk about disasters with your child before and after they happen to help provide a safe emotional outlet. Teach your child that it’s okay to feel sad, angry or scared when thinking about a disaster.
- They have limited communication capabilities. Infants and toddlers may be unable to identify themselves or their parents during an emergency. It’s critical that parents keep their emergency contact information up-to-date and share it with all of their caregivers.
How to prepare: Teach your child how to identify herself and who she can trust in an emergency (teachers, first responders etc.). As children get older, teach them how to contact you in case of an emergency and have them memorize key phone numbers and email addresses. Check out these 4 Tips for Communicating During an Emergency for some simple steps that all parents should take to ensure that they can reach their children during an emergency.
- They love routine. Kids thrive in familiar and predictable environments.
How to prepare:Include some of your child’s favorite toys and activities in your disaster supplies kit so that he feels comforted during an emergency. Following a disaster, do your best to keep your scheduled routine to help children cope and recover. Playing games and having fun can help a child feel like things are getting back to normal.
Together we can raise a generation ready for emergencies. Visit Save the Children’s Get Ready Get Safe website for some resources that will help you get started.
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