Most of the information I’ve seen out there about preparing for a disaster is written for an individual, or sometimes maybe a small team of adults. The reality is that a lot of people who are interested in being ready in case of fire, earthquake, SHTF, or whatever, have children. Preparing for emergencies with children takes a bit more thinking and is really about managing expectations.
So what do I mean about that?
It’s human nature that people don’t typically do well with the unknown, and kids are especially bad at this when they see adults worried about what’s going on. If you don’t explain to them what’s going on and what to expect, they’ll fill in the details with their imagination and that can quickly spin out of control.
For some of you, what I’m going to talk about should make a lot of sense. If you’ve ever moved across the country with kids or taken them to their first day of school, you probably found it very helpful to explain to them what’s going to happen and what to expect. Some of this help comes from answering questions but children, sometimes they don’t have the experience to even know what to ask.
Prepping with children is all about – well – preparation.
Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? With them, it’s not just learning the skills needed to survive in different situations, it’s about getting used to being out of their comfort zone as well as putting them in situations that have enough overlap with what you’ve had them practice that they’re actually more in their comfort zone than they would’ve been.
The great thing about prepping with kids is that even if that day doesn’t come where you have to bug out of town due to an earthquake or some collapse of society due to a zombie outbreak, done correctly, they can learn important life skills about overcoming hardships as well as adapting to unfamiliar situations. It can help them deal with life in general.
One of the concerns you have to keep in mind is that you need to gradually get them into it in some kind of way that doesn’t feed or start paranoia. You also need to make sure you’re giving them enough time and practice to understand what they’re learning so they can react without you having to be there – in case you’re not.
They need to know what to expect and they need to know what to do when things happen that they didn’t expect. Starting this while they’re young can help them build important life skills when they’re older.
You also need to make it fun.
This isn’t boot camp, this is home life.
Let’s say you’re going to take your kids out camping. Absolutely one of the best ways to prepare people for emergencies, as well as a great way to spend time with your family. One of the worst things you can do is toss them into things over their head and expect they’ll ‘sink or swim’ without giving them enough time and practice (and effective teaching) to know what to do and how to do it.
Take the time to help them crawl-walk-run through everything they learn and realize that you have to stop seeing things through the eyes of an adult.
Get them the right bug out bag
Even if your kids are toddlers, it could be very helpful to get them their own backpack. Obviously, kids love gifts, but they also love having something to put things into. Not only can this make them feel like they’re more a part of what’s going on, but you can also keep some things with them so you don’t have to bury that stuff in your own bag. The key here is to just get a bag that will fit them but not attract undue attention.
You will have to decide what makes the most sense to put in their bag. (Here’s an article about school bug-out bags you may be able to adapt.)
Tell them things you’ve experienced
Kids (and people in general) can learn a lot from stories. Tell them stories about camping when you were a kid and things that you had to learn along the way. Keep it more fun than cautionary but make sure they’re learning any lessons you had to learn. Start getting them to realize that survival, or even just comfort, is as much about adapting and figuring things out as it is about preparing and practice.
Before you take them out on any excursions, you should make a regular habit of discussing the different elements of what they need to know and decide what they – and you – need to learn next. Basically, homework.
Both you and they can learn skills best by teaching others, so give each person assignments of something that they need to learn and teach the family. It doesn’t need to be complicated. Learning things this way helps to make sure they focus on the details of why things work or don’t, so they can answer questions and explain things better.
Here’s why this is important:
- You’re normalizing the learning of survival or prepping skills by associating it with their previous ideas of schoolwork. This can make them more comfortable with the process. The more like a fun school assignment you can make it, the more normal it’ll all seem.
- You’re giving them some control over the process. In the corporate world, we called this ‘taking ownership.’ By giving them a general idea of what to learn and letting them learn it (with your help, if necessary) in their own way, they have some control and will usually buy into it much more.
- By giving them control over some of this process, you reduce their fear. They not only have a better idea what to expect, they also build self-confidence in learning and doing things.
Make a Schedule
Don’t just take them camping next week, give everyone assignments throughout the week to get them ready and excited to go. If you do it right, it’ll make things much easier to set up once you get there as well.
Here’s an example (your schedule will be much larger and each person should have their own items to do).
- Learn how to set up the tent by reading directions and watching videos
- Research how to build a fire with a bow and practice
- Prepare a contingency plan for a fire because you realize it’s a lot harder to do than it seemed
- Decide what meals they want while camping
- Dad gets the vehicle ready for travel by checking the fluids, spare tire etc.
- Research the campground
- Pull out tent and become familiar with all the pieces
- Make a list of things to bring to the campground
- Get the correct groceries
- Test all the flashlights and equipment that are going
- Show kids how to dray a map of the living room
- Put up the tent with parents’ guidance
- Put the tent away with parents’ guidance
- Draw a map of the living room and explain what’s on the map
- Decide what games and hobbies will go on during the trip
- Show the map to everyone about the route to the camp and surrounding area
- Explain what to do if you get separated
- Lay down rules to be followed at the campground
- Pre-stage camping gear and list what’s missing
- Show kids how to draw a map of the yard
- Set up the tent with no help from parents and show completed tent
- Put tent away without help from parents
- Draw a map of the yard and explain what’s on the map
- Load vehicle with all but food and items needed during the commute
- Give details about family trip to friends/family and instructions about what to do if they don’t contact or return by a certain time
- Last minute trip to get anything missing from yesterday’s check
- Go over the itinerary for tomorrow and what everyone’s responsibilities are
- Discuss any questions or concerns they have
- Load up vehicle
- Last check of gear
- Drive to campground
- Go over rules of the camp one more time
- Teach a class on how to set up the tent, explaining each step and what to look out for
- Draw a map of the campground and surrounding area and explain the map
- Explain the rules of the camp and what to do in case of emergency
Keep in mind that this camping example can be expanded to anything else such as storing food, self-protection, communication, or anything else. Youtube is one of the best sources to learn this stuff but remember that not everyone out there actually knows what they’re talking about.
Also, it helps if they see it as a game even if it isn’t a game like Kim’s game. They’re comfortable with games and like competition.
Make sure they understand what’s going on.
Make sure you explain things in advance to them, each step of the way. Explain about the lessons and what your expectations are and answer any questions they have. Keep them involved as much as possible.
One thing you need to absolutely make sure you do is come up with a family communication plan. I’ve spelled out what you need to do in this family communicatons plan article. If something happens where you get separated and they haven’t learned everything they need to or something happens to you, they need to figure out how to get a hold of someone for help.
How do you help your children become better prepared?
Above all, just keep them involved, make sure they’re having fun, and slowly get them to learn and practice everything you need them to.
Does anyone have any suggestions or examples of what they’ve done to help their kids be better prepared?
Graywolf is a former Counterintelligence Agent and US Army combat veteran. His experience as an agent, soldier and government contractor on assignments around the world gives him a unique perspective on the world and how to deal with it. His website is Graywolf Survival.