Remember the famous scene from Mary Poppins in which Julie Andrews opens her carpetbag and extracts everything from a potted houseplant to a tasseled floor lamp? I think your child’s backpack can do the same thing (minus the houseplant): It can magically house all of your child’s greatest necessities in a small space.
I’m sure you have the No. 2 pencils, the folders, and the notebooks covered; I’m not going into any of those. The items I’m referring to will help keep your child safe, comfortable, and secure in the event of an emergency—or even if you’re just running a few minutes late for pick-up. In fact, knowing they have a well-stocked backpack can actually be empowering for kids. It can give them a sense of self-sufficiency and reduce anxiety in what might otherwise be a stressful situation.
Now, before you start stocking, start talking. Explain to your child that it’s very unlikely that there will ever be an emergency, and that if there is one, their teachers will be there to help them until you arrive. Remind them that we already do all kinds of things to be prepared for emergencies, like practicing fire drills and having fire extinguishers on hand—we hope we’ll never need them, but we’ll sure be glad to have them if we do!
Then go through the following five items with them one by one—you can even reveal each with a Mary Poppins–like flourish, and explain what function it serves.
1. Emergency kit. I don’t mean the kind with Ace bandages and splints for setting broken bones—let’s leave those to the professionals! This kit will provide common-sense items that will be most valuable to your child in any kind of emergency. And if a teacher or emergency worker is looking for contact information for your child, it will be right there at their fingertips:
Phone numbers (cell, work, home) for parents/guardians Phone number for another responsible adult (ask their permission first): babysitter, grandparent, neighbor Band-aids and antibiotic ointment A Ziploc bag containing wet wipes for washing hands
2. Snack and drink. A bottle of water and a couple of healthy snack bars can not only stave off hunger, it can also help keep your child’s mind occupied while he or she is waiting for mom or dad to arrive.
3. Small flashlight. The more kid-friendly, the better! If there’s ever a loss of power and the lights go out, children (and adults!) will be very happy to have their very own light source. And of course, the applications in case of a serious weather or other emergency are endless: A flashlight can help your child avoid broken glass, find their way to the restroom, and make them more visible to emergency workers and Mom or Dad.
4. Comfort object. This can be a small game, a deck of cards, a miniature stuffed animal, a toy—let your child pick out the item he’d most like to have with him. Besides serving as a helpful distraction, the item can relieve stress and help your child deal with the emotions of a long school day.
5. Thermal blanket. A thermal blanket made of Mylar (like those used by runners after a marathon) is extremely lightweight and waterproof, and it folds up to practically no size at all—and it can be a literal lifesaver in a bad weather situation. Furthermore, stress can often make a person feel chilled; if your child can stay warm, she may stay more relaxed. Bonus: Mylar thermal blankets are very inexpensive—you can get a pack of 10 for under $10. (It may also be helpful to have a change of clothes stored in your child’s locker or classroom cubby; the clothes just take up too much space and weight to carry around every day in a backpack.)
Finally—and this is very important—don’t forget to stock the backpack with lots of love and kisses! Virtual ones are good, but real ones are even better: Slide a little love note into your child’s emergency kit; believe me, it will make a world of difference when your child discovers it. The magic backpack, like Mary Poppins’ carpet bag, will empower your child, give you peace of mind, and will make you both feel good and ready to handle anything!