A lot of people who are preparing for emergencies have children at school-age children at home. Preschool children and infants present their own challenges so we won’t be dealing with them in this post. This post is about managing expectations.
So what do I mean by managing expectations? Children (and some adults) don’t do well with the unknown. They have active imaginiations and will fill in the blanks with their own version of what’s coming up. Because they don’t have the life experience of adults, their imaginations can go wild with all sorts of ideas.
If you’ve ever had to deal with a child getting ready for their first day of school, their first trip to the hospital for surgery, or moving across the country away from their friends, you know (or hopefully learned) that the best way to help children is to let them know, in ways that they can understand, what’s about to happen.
Prepping is all about getting ready. Being ready mentally is at least as important as getting ready physically. Since children can’t do much to get ready physically any more than they normally will be though playing, you need to focus on getting them ready for not just what’s going to happen in an emergency, you need to also get them ready for prepping in general.
Prepping isn’t just something you do this weekend so you’re ready if a flood comes to your neighborhood or your home burns down. It’s all those things and more. It’s about being ready to deal with life as it comes up, no matter how drastic it turns out.
Because of this, there is a lot of learning and a lot of unknowns involved. You need to make sure that children don’t get swept up with craziness. Getting ready for the apocalypse may be on your mind, but it shouldn’t be on theirs until they can wrap their minds around what exactly you’re talking about.
Your job is to manage their expectations. In other words, you need to let them know what to expect.
Let’s say that you’re trying to teach them how to build a fire with things you can find in the woods. The worst thing you can do is to just tell them that you’re all gonna have fun this weekend and then Friday afternoon you get off work, pile up your kids and your tent in the car, and then set up somewhere in the woods just before dark with a pile of wood and tell them that you need to get a fire started or they’ll freeze tonight or that you’ll need the fire to keep away the animals. Believe it or not, there are idiots out there that do this. They see it as a kind of “getting them ready to handle stressful situations” or a way to make them focus on what they’re teaching.
Discuss your past experiences
One way that children develop expectations about life is by proxy. They learn by what others tell them they’ve done. If you used to camp as a child, tell them about those experiences. Tell them how much fun you had as a kid. Tell them examples of what you went through so they have an idea what they may go through. Tell them that part of the adventure and fun of being out there was being in a situation that you didn’t know what to do, and you figured it out for yourself. Survival is the ultimate puzzle game.
This should be started well before you’ve planned to do what you’re gonna do, by the way. You should have regular conversations in your car and at dinner about camping. You should also get them directly involved by doing things such as giving them homework assignments.
Children can learn from each other and everyone learns by teaching, so why not give each child an assignment every week to learn a skill (maybe one chosen for them and one they get to chose) and sit down in the back yard the next weekend for them to give a small class on it. It doesn’t matter if they really do a great job of teaching. Your job is to know the subject well enough to fill in the blanks anyway.
By having children take chunks of ideas to work on as homework assignments, you’re doing several things here:
- You’re normalizing the learning of survival or prepping skills by associating it with their previous ideas of schoolwork. Children are usually very familiar with school either directly or by seeing it on TV or through friends. By folding in prepping/survival lessons into homework, they’ll be more comfortable and buy into the process more easily.
- You’re giving them some control over their learning by making them active participants in the process. The feeling that you’re in control of a situation is the surest way to alleviate fear. The more ways you can work in them having a decision in what goes on, the less they’ll fight or be afraid of the process.
- You’re helping them to actually learn the things that you give them assignments for to teach. Teaching something is one of the best ways to learn it. Not only will they work harder to learn it if they’re gonna be teaching it, they’ll “own” that project so you’ll see that whenever that particular skill or project comes up, they’ll be more likely to jump in and may even take charge.
A very simple way to make children more comfortable is to just give them a schedule. In our camping scenario for example, you wouldn’t want to just tell them that you’re gonna drive to the campground Friday night, set up camp, start a fire, and then sleep until the next morning. You should go into details something like this (you may have two plans, one you share and one overall with details you don’t share immediately):
- Billy researches how to build a fire with a bow saw method.
- Sally learns how to put up the tent.
- Dad researches how to build a fire with a bow and practices his ass off so he doesn’t look like an idiot to his family when the time comes.
- Dad also prepares a contingency plan for a fire because he realizes it’s a lot harder to do than to read about doing.
- Dad gets the vehicle ready for travel by checking the fluids, spare tire etc.
- The family decides which meals they want while camping.
- Bill practices how to build a fire.
- Mom and Dad arrange with neighbors or family to take care of house this weekend.
- Dad researches the camping area and figures out what the family will do for emergencies and communication.
- Billy gives the family a lesson on how to start a fire with the bow saw.
- The family practices how to build a fire with the bow saw (maybe a contest?).
- Mom gets the food from the grocery store that will be taken to the campground.
- A list is made of all items that will be brought to the campground
- Dad and Mom sit down with everyone with a map of where they’ll all be driving and where they’ll be staying.
- Dad and Mom also set expectations about the rules, what the kids can bring, how far they can go away from camp, etc.
- A few planned activities are discussed but try not to go too deep into planning fun.
- Mom and Dad give plan to family/friend so they know where they’ll be and when they’ll be back.
- All items on the list of what to bring are located and touched so they are definitely available.
- Most items are loaded into the vehicle as items are checked off the list.
- Family meeting to go over what has happened during the week and what else should be done that hasn’t been.
- Last minute trip to get anything missing.
- Any missing items are loaded into the vehicle.
- Last minute bathroom break.
- Family heads out to the campground.
- Upon arriving, Dad and Mom set out the rules and what to do in case something happens.
- Billy gets a fire started with Dad as his assistant.
- Hilarity ensues and great fun is had by all.
- Continue with other camping stuff.
- Sally cooks breakfast with Mom as assistant.
- Family pulls up stakes, loads up vehicle and cleans up camping area.
- Family drives home.
- Family unloads vehicle.
- Dad and Mom take a nap.
As you can see, one of the things we changed was to leave Saturday morning instead of Friday after Dad got home from work. After planning things out, he realized that there just wasn’t enough time to load up, get to the campground, set up a tent and start a fire before it got dark. Not only was it a bad plan logistically, it wouldn’t have been much fun. No fun means no buy-in for the children later on.
You can also see that there are a couple of things that should go on behind the scenes. Billy may not get the fire started but you don’t want him to give up trying. By pulling out a 99 cent lighter at the last minute, Dad saves the day and provides a critical lesson on the importance of contingency planning.
Obviously, this should go for more than just camping. Any kind of prepping could also be adapted in a similar manner such as choosing what foods to stock, weapons safety and training, building solar cookers or batteries, etc. Do your research by reading books like this one about how to prep with children before you just go doing things. There is a lot of good information out there. Some of it’s crappy so look for ones like in the link I just gave you that have good reviews from a bunch of people.
Remember also that 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 that if you’re doing related prepping things that they aren’t ready for doing, that they’re able to participate by at least asking questions. Explain what you’re doing and why in ways they can understand. It doesn’t help them much if they just see you doing things and don’t know why you’re doing them.
You don’t need to go into all the ultimate reasons; just what they need to know. For example, if a child asks you why you’re cleaning a gun, the last thing you should be saying is that you’re doing it in case someone tries to sneak in and kidnap them, causing them to have nightmares. Just tell them that when a gun is fired, it gets dirty and if a gun is too dirty, it stops firing. You’ll have to figure out how deep to go if they keep asking more questions.
The point is to plan what you’re gonna do and share the plan with your kids as well as what experience you or others have previously had doing the same thing. This is what managing expectations for children is all about. Let them know what’s coming and that it’s gonna be either fun or an adventure. Then you have to figure out just how exactly you ARE gonna make it a fun adventure.