Your old toaster shorts out, and, after quietly smoldering for hours, the blaze catches and your split-floor plan house is on fire!
As the flames crackle through the living room, your six year-old awakens to the smell of smoke and eerie sounds and lights coming from down the hall.
"Mommy? Daddy?" She queries, sensing there is trouble, but also knowing you sleep on the other side of that trouble.
What does she do?
Why, whatever you taught her to do, of course!
Young children, as we all know, don't always do what we tell them to do. But, if we show them, run practice drills, and keep repeating the rules, several amazing things happen.
First of all, each time you practice a home fire escape, you're telling your child that we plan for, and take safety measures against, home emergencies. You teach her how to shut the bedroom door and climb out her window (or whatever plan you have), and every time you practice this makes her less likely to 1) hide in the closet or 2) crawl under the bed, or 3) freeze in terror and do nothing.
Psychologist tell us that when a person is terrified, they will operate on the most basic level. The only way to prevent your child from doing something inadequate is to teach him to do something else.
The following four things will help ensure your family's safety in the event of a fire:
1) A master evacuation and meeting plan ("Let's meet outside by the big tree next door.") You can download a grid to make your own evacuation plan here. This will show how each family member can get out of any room in the house and where they should go. Teach them the chant, "Go outside and stay outside!" This will remind them not to re-enter the home for pets, etc.
2) Regularly scheduled training (escape and evacuation drills). Practice these escape at least twice a year. This tests the abilities of each child to get out of every room in the house two ways, and two ways from the upstairs rooms. Actually implementing your plan will show weaknesses in the plan so you can take steps to correct them.
3) Clear pathways.This is making sure that all exit pathways are clear enough for family members to exit the house. Make sure none of the doors or windows are blocked by furniture and that your children can easily reach and unlock the windows in their bedrooms if needed.
4) Life Safety Equipment (smoke detectors, sprinklers, fire extinguisher, ladders, etc.) Not only will these items warn family members, but, also, when you test and replace batteries in smoke detectors, let them help you.
Amazingly enough, children who help with these preparations become mindful of other kinds of emergency preparations. In other words, it helps teach them a 'safety mentality', an active thinking process which can be applied to other areas of their lives.
As a parent, you'll be able to share the sense of pride and achievement your child feels when they successfully plan for future contingencies.