Hurricane season can be very stressful, especially for children.
It’s important for family members to know how to react in an emergency, because when a disaster strikes, the best protection is knowing what to do.
The following are some ideas for helping your children prepare for a hurricane approaches and deal with their fears.
When talking to your child, be sure to present a realistic picture that is both honest and understandable.
Before the storm
• Talk with your children about the dangers of disasters that are likely in your area and how to prepare for each type. Make sure they know where to go in your home to stay safe during a tornado, hurricane or other disasters.
• Go through steps for safety, show them the most protected areas of the house where they can wait out the storm, etc.
• Explain to children how and when to call for help. Keep emergency phone numbers where family members can find them.
• Agree on a meeting place away from your home (a neighbor or relative’s house or other location) where you would get together if you were separated in an emergency. Give each family member an emergency list with the name, address and phone number of the meeting place.
• Put together a disaster supplies kit for your family and allow children to help develop the family disaster plan. They can make their own plan for things that are important to them, such as how they will occupy themselves without electricity and how they will contact friends post-disaster.
• Provide a child with his or her own flashlight for comfort and security.
Understand that children may not be able to verbalize their fears and anxieties, and will naturally look to their parents or caregivers for reassurance.
They will take their cues on how to act or react from an adult caregiver, the more assured they are the faster they overcome anxieties.
One of the biggest fears children have is that of being left alone. Try to include them in planning and listen to children who are afraid.
It’s okay to let children know that you are afraid too. By sharing your feelings it shows that you are hearing what they are saying and that you understand.
You may need to repeat over and over the same answer; this provides a reassuring pattern that children need in stressful times.
Encourage young children to draw pictures to express their feelings.
After the hurricane
Stress reactions may appear in your children days, weeks or even months after a hurricane or disaster.
This is a normal part of coping and recovery for a child. If the symptoms last longer than two weeks and are intense, arrange for professional help.
Get back into a routine as quickly as possible. Scheduled meal times, bedtime, and play times tell children that a sense of normalcy is back and things are under control.
Common signs of stress
• Persistent fears, such as being left alone, the dark, strangers, loud noises and weather. Regressive behavior like sucking their thumb, wetting their pants when they are potty trained and excessive crying.
• Extreme disobedience
• Inability to concentrate
If you are concerned about the mental well-being of your child, contact your child’s health care provider.