How to Protect Your Children During the Flood

Photo Credit: Daniel Julie

 
During normal times, parents are concerned about the safety of their children.  With many families impacted by the flooding in Thailand, this concern is heightened.
 
It’s best not only to prepare yourself for the possible problems ahead, but also to prepare your children to handle themselves properly to prevent diseases and other dangers which may come with the water. Here are 3 areas that parents should pay special attention to:
 
Learn and Teach Disease Prevention
 
        Beware of digestive tract diseases: Digestive tract diseases are the most common health problems caused by flooding. If children consume contaminated food or water, they are at greater risk of developing both simple conditions including diarrhea and cholera, and severe illnesses such as typhoid fever and hepatitis.
 
Parents should supervise their child’s hand washing before eating and after using the toilet. Ensure the food they eat has been cooked recently, as flies may be especially infectious during flooding periods.  And confirm they are drinking purified water, either from sealed bottles or water that has been boiled or chemically treated. Teach children to keep their mouth away from the water if they if they must be in flood water.
 
For parents of young children: If a child is breastfeeding, the safest course is to continue breastfeeding normally while taking care to keep the child away from any wet clothing. If the child is formula-fed, prepare it with very recently purified water, and use only clean water to wash and rinse feeding bottles and utensils used in preparing the formula.
 
If a child has diarrhea: Ensure the child drinks an electrolyte solution to replenish lost vitamins and minerals. If the child’s condition does not improve in 2 or 3 days or experiences unusual stools, fever or vomiting, you should take the child to see a doctor.
 
·         Avoid dehydration: Dehydration can result from heavy physical exertion in flood waters, from digestive illnesses, or both. Children suffering from dehydration may exhibit symptoms including listlessness and lethargy, irritability, extreme thirst, dry and/or warm skin, and low urine volume. If dehydration goes untreated, the symptoms will continue to worsen, and eventually medical treatment will be necessary.
 
Ensure your child always drinks a sufficient amount of water each day.  For children, the recommended average minimum daily water intake is:
 
1 - 3 years:  960 ml (4 cups)
4 - 8 years:  1,200 ml (5 cups)
9 – 13 years:
Boys:  1,920 ml (8 cups)
Girls:  1,680 ml (7 cups)
14-18 years:
Boys:  2,640 ml (11 cups)
Girls:  1,920 ml (8 cups)
 
A child showing signs of dehydration should be given water and electrolytes. Milk and juice are also acceptable, but opt for plain, clean water as much as possible.
 
If the symptoms persist, seek medical attention.
 
        Prevent mosquito bites: Teach your children that, during times of flooding, mosquitoes pose a greater danger for spreading diseases such as malaria and dengue fever. Younger children’s delicate skin makes them particularly susceptible to mosquito bites.
 
To prevent mosquito bites, your children should wear long sleeve shirts and pants to stay covered whenever possible. You may also consider using mosquito repellent, but be sure to read the important information on its use and age-related warnings at the following website: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/westnile/qa/insect_repellent.htm
 
Children should sleep with mosquito nets (even during daytime hours), and be sure to allow sufficient space between the net and the child to prevent their being bitten through the net.
 
If bitten, clean the area and apply Calamine or similar lotion to relieve itching and prevent scratching. Teach your child that scratching a mosquito bite makes it easier for contaminated flood water to enter the skin and cause infection.
 
        Teach children about proper waste disposal: For many reasons, flooding can make it difficult to find a proper working toilet. Parents should forbid their children from defecating into the water, to avoid  greatly increasing the potential spreading of cholera to the community.   Teach your children the proper way to dispose of human waste.
 
An emergency toilet for children can be made from materials such as cardboard boxes. Use sturdy plastic bags to collect the bodily wastes, and seal the bags tightly. It may not be a pleasant thing to keep near your home, but normal disposal during a flood may not be possible.  Don’t discard them into the water, and store them in a place that’s out of reach of children. 
 
        Treat wounds quickly: If you are feeling unwell, wear a surgical mask when in close proximity to an injured child. If your child suffers a shallow cut from a sharp object, clean the wound thoroughly with Betadine or alcohol, then apply antibacterial cream. Use waterproof adhesive bandages, and keep the wound area away from dirty water. For foot or ankle wounds, ensure the child wears rubber boots and avoids splashing water into the boots.
 
        Keep current on children’s vaccinations: Parents should remember the importance of children’s vaccinations. For example, the DTP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis) and hepatitis A & B shots are common vaccines that offer important protection during a time like this. For vaccines which are not scheduled, bring the child’s vaccination history to the doctor to determine which may be needed at this time. If you don’t have records, try to provide approximate dates for the doctor to review.
 
Protection and Security
 
        Teach the dangers of electric shock: Children should be taught that while electricity is very important for the house and family, it can be dangerous around water. If flood water is nearing your house, train them to not play near electrical outlets and appliances. Consider purchasing outlet covers, and train children to keep fingers away from sockets.
 
In the event water enters your house, use the circuit breaker to turn off the electricity. For any appliances plugged in near water, do not touch the appliance, especially while standing in damp or wet areas.
 
        Have life jackets for your children: Ensure children wear lifejackets at all times prior to wading in water. Parents should closely supervise children at all times. Do not let children swim in areas where they may slip or fall. If children must wade through water, ensure that they are over paved roads, as canals and deep holes are easily hidden by dark water and can appear without warning.
 
Check that the lifejacket is the right size for the child. Ensure the straps are secure so the jacket won’t slip off if the boat overturns. Attach a whistle to the lifejacket, teach the child that the whistle is only for emergencies, and to blow the whistle when the child needs help.
 
Stay Mentally Strong
 
        Stay calm, reduce stress: Children can sense when parents are stressed, and they can “catch” stress from parents like an infection. In a situation like this, you can deal with stress by keeping informed about the flooding near you, but limit the amount of flooding news watched each day. Talk with your family about unrelated subjects, and participate in volunteer activities. Parents can plan, prepare for and cope with the flood without creating additional stress or frightening children.
 
If you notice that you are behaving differently or are more irritable than usual, take time to reduce your stress; this is important both for you and for your family. While it may seem like there is never a good time, take a moment to listen to some music, read, pray or meditate to calm the mind.
 
When parents are preparing to deal with the flood situation, be mindful of the safety of your children. Don’t just prepare yourself -- teach and prepare your children as well. Focus on constructive ways to teach your children so they will learn the facts without becoming scared.
 
Posted by Scott Minteer
November 14, 2011