Protect Your Family: Talking to Kids about Emergencies

When Chicago fifth grader, Adonis Bell, woke up to a smoke filled bedroom, he knew instantly what to do to protect his family- thanks to a firefighter’s school presentation. By waking his mother, carrying his two-year old relative to safety, and rousing a neighbor, he saved six lives. According to research, most kids wouldn’t have been so heroic or quick thinking.

As parents, we try to ready our children for life. One area we shouldn’t neglect is emergency preparedness. It’s not always easy to talk to kids about scary situations, such as house fires, earthquakes, floods or tornados, but it’s vital. Teaching your child the right thing to do can save their life and the lives of others.

How to Talk to Kids without Alarming Them?

Emergency preparedness is far easier to discuss with children in advance, when there is no crisis.  Spend time defining the basics of various situations, but don’t give harsh details. For example, explain briefly how a tornado causes high winds that can damage buildings. Stress the importance of seeking shelter. Talk about why a plan is a good idea.

Explain the differences in why and when to seek shelter or evacuate. Establish a meeting place for family members. Be prepared to answer questions children may have, including safety of their pets or being separated from family members.  Reassure kids that planning is necessary for all families.

Survival Kits

You can make a game out of creating a survival kit, by having each family member find items to put in a backpack or tote.  Ask your child what he or she thinks are important to have for emergencies. Discuss essentials, such as food, water, flashlights, batteries, can opener, trash bags, portable radio and first aid supplies.

Practice Makes Safe

Young children learn best by performing an activity. Have drills to evacuate and to seek shelter. For fun, you can time your kiddos. Tell them not to run, but to get to each place of safety as quickly as they can. Show them how to crawl on all fours if there is smoke in the house. Demonstrate checking temperature of doors to test for fire.  Make sure everyone knows at least two routes out of the house and practice these with kids.

Teach each person in the family how to use a fire extinguisher. If possible, take children outside and practice P.A.S.S. – Point the fire extinguisher, Aim at the fire’s center, Squeeze the trigger and Sweep back and forth.

Contact Information

 In the event of a major catastrophe, phone service could be disrupted for days. Establish a meeting place, individuals to pick up children, and contact numbers out-of-state in case local lines are unavailable. Have each family agree to contact out-of-state family member with their location if separated. Post emergency and contact phone numbers in the home. Provide written numbers for kids to take with them in their backpacks or personal effects when they leave the house.


Have children practice calling 911. Pretend to be the dispatcher on a mock call and ask them questions about the “emergency.”  Take turns playing out different scenarios with kids. Help them understand why and how to contact 911.