Teaching Kids to Stay Safe and Stable Through an Earthquake

How do you talk with your kids about natural disasters? Or do you avoid the topic and hope for the best? The right safety instructions can help your children live through the worst events, but too much information or, for that matter, misinformation can cause confusion and panic. Balance your information properly and help your kids protect themselves from potential disasters like earthquakes. If you live in a quake-prone environment, start today with basic lessons. An education on earthquakes and a well-designed safety plan can mean a life or death difference for kids, especially for young children.

Describe earthquakes before you start teaching safety. Even knowing the basics behind how earthquakes work can help children stay calm; they can then make smart decisions when a quake hits. Choose simple lessons based on how old, interested, and understanding each kid is. After they generally understand earthquakes, move on to safety lessons.

Earthquake Basics: How Kids Can Stay Safe

First, remember that many areas can receive advanced warning of earthquakes. In earthquake prone areas, it is common practice for schools to have regular earthquake drills. This school-wide preparation is a great point to start, and it is often a launching point for a discussion with your whole family. In earthquakes, often the most important task for any kid is to pay attention to a parent, teacher, coach or other adult and follow their instructions immediately. This makes the rest of earthquake safety far easier.

In your house, take a room by room tour with your kids. In each room, pick a spot where your kids should go in case tremors begin. Always find a spot where there is no danger of falling objects. Bookcases, cabinets, light fixtures – no matter which way they fall, the spot should be protected. Beyond structural collapse (which occurs only in the worst quakes), falling objects are the key danger inside any building. This is why taking refuge under a desk or table is sometimes suggested. Schools often adopt a Drop, Cover, and Hold guide that can clearly instruct kids on what to do in an earthquake emergency. Such a guide can also work at home.

If your child is inside when the quake occurs, make sure they stay inside until the quake has fully stopped. If outside, similar rules apply. Your kids should find as clear a spot as possible (a soccer field, for example, is the perfect location) and wait there until the shaking stops.

Of course, quakes often start in less-than-ideal circumstances. If the quake happens at night, children should stay in bed and pull their pillow over their heads for greater protection. If you are driving with your kids, stay calm for their sake. Find a clear parking lot if possible. If you happen to be inside malls and stores, instruct your kids to find you, move slowly, and avoid shelves or heavy items. The rush to exit stores can cause more bodily harm than the quake itself, so avoid panicking. If you are in a large gathering, like a theater, stadium, or church, make sure your family keeps to their seats and holds up their arms to protect their heads.

A Family Emergency Kit

If you find yourself in a bad quake, an emergency kit can help your family survive until help arrives. Build your kit together with your family so they know what is inside it and where to find it in your house. A basic kit includes at least three days of nonperishable food and one gallon of water per person, per day, for three days. Experts also suggest you include a battery-powered radio and flashlight. A whistle can help family members stay in contact, while a first aid kit can help treat minor injuries. Medications and a fire extinguisher may also be helpful.

A good kit will also include other items like maps, a cell phone with a solar charger, bleach for disinfecting, and key family documents…but these are adult additions – kids should not be encouraged to use them. As a side note, children may also want to add coloring books or toys to help with long wait times; you can even encourage your kids to create their own mini emergency kits, just in case.

Make It Simple: Points to Repeat

  • A Place to Go

    When the quake starts, kids should immediately head to the safe area, whatever that is. All safe areas have one thing in common: They are far away from things that could fall and hit people.

  • A Place to Meet

    At the house, pick a single meeting spot for the family after the earthquake. Kids should meet there after every quake finishes. While the quake is happening, stay put. After it is finished, go to the meeting spot.

  • The Kit

    Earthquake kits are only for after the ground has stopped shaking. Then the helpful things inside can be used by anyone in a dire situation. Kids should know where the kits are, and if they are old enough, how to use the basic items.

  • Practice

    Lessons are easy to forget if only practiced once. Run earthquake drills several times a year if your area is prone to quakes. Rehearse past lessons each time so kids remember the basics.

Additional Resources

Here are several websites that include more information on earthquakes and proper preparations:

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