HELPING CHILDREN PREPARE FOR HURRICANE SEASON
by Terilee Wunderman, PhD
Preparing children for hurricane season includes talking to and involving them in the process. Rather than attempting to deny, minimize or dismiss hurricane fears, be honest and open about how you and your family are coping with the possibility of storms. Mild hurricane anxiety is often a natural, healthy inner warning system for our self-preservation and survival. Talking with your children about how your family is preparing, what may occur and what they may see during and after a storm will help them cope with such anxiety in healthy and effective ways.
Young children need reassurance that the family, home and belongings are cared for, protected and secured as best as possible. For older children, having a sense of responsibility can help them channel anxiety productively. Contributing actively in age-appropriate ways allows youngsters to feel a sense of competence and confidence as they cope with the unexpected.
Here are some tips to keep in mind:
Answer children’s questions with honest but simple responses appropriate for their level of understanding.
Show children the “safe room” in your home.
Let children know what you will bring into the “safe room.”
Help children decide what they will bring into the “safe room” — a favorite doll or toy, comfort items, board games, playing cards, art supplies, change of clothes, etc.
Show children your hurricane supplies, and provide explanations they can comprehend.
Include children in preparations — bringing in items from the backyard, being your “assistant” when putting up shutters, shopping for supplies, and helping prepare snacks and treats for during the storm.
Educate children about safety issues inside your home (fire hazards) and outdoors (downed wires, sharp debris, standing water).
Read with your children about coping with hurricanes. Scholastic offers a list of useful children’s books. The NOAA offers a free comprehensive and sensitive booklet for families.
Throughout hurricane season, remember to focus on your family’s strengths. Share stories about how well you have coped through storms in the past. Focus on how the family is prepared for this year’s possibilities. Keep a positive attitude by making storm preparations a natural, creative part of family life.
If you or your children experience troublesome levels of anxiety, contact a psychologist for helpful support and further coping tools.