Basic safety measures for kids
This interview is from A Kids Book About: The Podcast, with host Matthew Winner, author of A Kids Book About Safety, Soraya Sutherland, and Simon Huck, the co-founder of JUDY—an emergency preparedness brand. It has been lightly edited for clarity.
What is safety?
Simon: To me, safety is making sure you do everything you can to prepare yourself for life's unexpected surprises.
Soraya: Safety is about having a plan on what you're going to do. If you find yourself in a situation that's unknown and familiar and might feel a little icky. And we talk about that icky feeling of not feeling safe inside. So what safety is really can change based on each individual or each circumstance, but it's about thinking through different types of situations.
Safety is a topic you start learning about from your very first days in the world. The grownups in your life want to ensure your protection. They take steps to make sure the world around you is as safe as possible. But also that you know how to keep yourself safe.
Soraya: This is a book about having hard conversations about the tough stuff that we don't want to talk about. And it's also about having those conversations about what we're going to do in situations that can be really scary sometimes. It's those conversations that are so important for us to be having now so that we are prepared when something bad does happen to respond in the right way.
Have you ever been in an emergency situation? What did it feel like for you to experience that?
Simon: I have been involved in two minor car accidents and in both cases, I was not prepared. I had no idea who I was supposed to call. I didn't have my insurance card. And I learned in those instances that I needed to have a conversation with my parents and with my family and friends of what to do when I'm in an emergency.
Being in an emergency like a car accident, even though it was minor, was really scary.
Soraya: Yeah, I live in California and we have earthquakes. And so I remember as a child being at my house, and it was early in the morning and there was a big earthquake and I remember feeling terrified and scared. Primarily because in schools they had taught us what to do, and we had practiced what to do.
However, when things are happening around us, like the house, moving, everything, shaking, it's the unknown of what's going to happen and how long it's going to last. And you see the fear and the reaction of your parents, who you look to. I look to my parents for a signal to say, “It's going to be okay.” And when I see fear in their faces, that's really where it gets scary and really where it was scary for me.
And I'll never forget to this day where I was, what I did, the time of day, even the direction of the blinds when it happened. It imprints its fear and it truly imprinted [itself] in my brain and really has impacted how I respond, even when earthquakes happen again.
I’ve mentioned before that, prior to working at A Kids Company About, I was a teacher, an elementary school librarian. We held a lot of emergency drills throughout the year for all sorts of different scenarios including fire, earthquake, hurricane, and lockdown.
These drills are meant to help train and protect us, but they can also be a little scary. That’s not anyone’s intention, but it’s what happens when our brain and our body start to put us into protective mode.
Soraya: Absolutely. And it's important to recognize that that's an appropriate level of reaction, right? It's okay to feel afraid.
And it's okay to talk about why we feel afraid too. And so what happens normally when we're presented with circumstances that are beyond our normal realm, right? It's not what we're used to. It's not normal. Our natural reactions. And this is where the brain takes over and we go into this fight or flight mode, right.
That's what they call it. And we like to talk about, we add another level to this: fight, flight, or freeze. And so you will respond in one of those capacities based on past experiences, based on how quickly your brain can process what's happening, and then how you then process that and take it into action.
So feeling afraid is a completely normal feeling. It's important to recognize that feeling and know that it's okay. And that's an important component.
What does feeling safe feel like to you? Give yourself space to acknowledge that you may have lots of different feelings about it depending on where you are in the emergency, who is with you, and what happens.
Simon: It's all about being prepared, the same way that I feel when I prepare for a big job interview or a podcast like this, or a big test at school. Feeling safe is being prepared and making sure I'm having all those tough conversations before I need to have them.
Soraya: It's not about feeling safe. It's about being safe and there's two differences, 'cause we can feel all sorts of things, but to actually be safe is very different than just feeling that you're safe, because feelings come and go, right. And being safe is actually taking the steps and actions to then have a certain outcome.
Whereas feeling is an emotion based on your perspective to a situation. So we talk about that a lot because I do a lot of work with schools and a lot of people think they're safe because they feel safe, but it's not about feeling safe.
It's actually about being safe by following the steps to get there.
Given all the ways you could or should react to certain situations, here are two safety guidelines to put at the top of your list, plus something you can put in place right now to help ensure your safety and the safety of others around you.
Soraya: Remain calm. And it's really hard cause sometimes kids can't regulate your emotions in that way. So I always tell, especially with my kids, I say, “Just remember to breathe, because just being able to get a hold of your breathing can help you think more clearly.”
The other piece is to look for people, trusted community partners, helpers in your community. If you don't know what to do. Look for the helpers. Look for the people that we trust, police officers, firefighters, you know, doctors, nurses, people that we trust in our community. And that can look different for everyone, but having those conversations of how do I get help, right. If I need help and I don't know what to do because I'm separated from my parent, how do I get help?
Simon: The biggest takeaway for me in an emergency is to listen to authorities. Is that first responders? Is that a police officer? Is that a firefighter? If they are telling you that you must evacuate or leave your home or your school, make sure you listen to them. It is so critically important that we listen to the advice and the recommendations of our first responders.
The most important and free thing you can do to prepare yourself for an emergency is make a plan.
And what does that mean? Make a plan. Make a plan means sit down with your friends and family and talk about all the things that you're vulnerable to at your home, at your school, at your office. Are you living in an area where you're near wildfires? Are you living in an area where you're close to water, where there could be flooding? Have those important conversations and learn about all the things you need to know in the event that an emergency does happen.
Kid Question: How can I be safe in my house?
Soraya: That's such a good question.
And it's a common question a lot of children have. And the first thing I would say, when you talk about being safe in your house, sit down with your parents and talk about things that might be unsafe in your house and identify things that might hurt you. And that's where, when we talk about safety, what essentially is in your house that might cause you to get hurt.
And so we talk about things that might fall on you. Or something very simple that children all understand and know are smoke detectors, right? We can be safe by having working smoke detectors in our house. And why does that help us become safe? Because that's an early warning system, if there's a fire, it's going to alert us that there's something dangerous going on and that we need to then respond to that.
And then also giving children the tools to be able to then overcome that fear by giving them things to do. Showing them how to be safe. So bookshelves for example are another great one. Their bookshelves are really easy to fall over, not just in earthquakes, but children are very common. I know when I had little kids, all they wanted to do was climb bookshelves.
I don't know why, but those are things that can fall on top of you and they can hurt your body. Right. And so by bolting them to the wall, right. Just securing them to the wall now makes that situation more safe and, and won't hurt you or hurt me if I'm next to a bookshelf during an earthquake, or my three-year-old is trying to scale the wall and climb the bookshelf.
So having those conversations, um, and identifying things that might be unsafe and then giving them tools to then overcome.
Each week on A Kids Book About: The Podcast, we talk about the big things going on in your world with a different author from our A Kids Book About series. This week we have Simon Huck, the co-founder of JUDY—an emergency preparedness brand. We also have Soraya Sutherland, the author of A Kids Book About Safety.