Preparing Your Child For Hurricanes

Preparing Your Child For Hurricanes
With the anticipation of Hurricane Dorian this Labor Day weekend, I wrote this post in the hope that these tips can be helpful to some families affected.

If you live in an area that is prone to tropical storms, otherwise known as hurricanes in the United States, you are likely all too familiar with the risks and challenges that come with Hurricane Season. Hurricanes are at risk of hitting for approximately 5 months from June through November, the longest of all the natural disaster seasons. The fact these storms originate days before ever making landfall, that they can vary considerably in their size, intensity, and longevity, and that they often are followed by flooding, all increase the risk of anxiety and stress in children.

Growing up in the midwest in tornado country, I remember the unease I felt during the hours our family spent glued to the TV and radio waiting for the signal from the officials letting us know if we were safe. In my 20s I moved to the Panhandle and even as a young adult, the weeks of anticipation of a hurricane was overwhelming. Research the past 10 years has been confirming the heightened vulnerability of children before, during and after a disaster. Children overhear conversations, see images all over the media, and feel the stress from their parents.

Following 2018 category 4 storm, Hurricane Michael, it was reported that school children were left anxious not only about the hurricane itself but the loss of homes and their security. Sharon Michalik, communications director for the Bay District Schools, stated in this GovTech article:

“Many of the children have ‘flashbacks’ when bad weather hits the area and wonder if the same conditions present during the hurricane are returning”

To help your children feel more empowered and less afraid, here are some several age-appropriate ways to engage them in the planning and preparation before a hurricane. And don’t stress, this doesn’t have to happen all at once!

Communication Tips
Contrary to common belief, talking with your children about scary topics is proven to decrease anxiety and increase security. Here are some tips about talking with your children about natural disasters. For more in depth reading, check out our blog post by child psychologist Susan Ko.
  • Stay calm, collected, and confident. Whatever you say, your children will remember the feeling in addition to the words. Reframe “fear” to “calm.”
  • Plan for a series of small conversations. Share knowledge clearly and often.
  • Follow your child’s lead. Encourage them to ask questions.
  • Answer questions directly. Keep it factual.
  • “I don’t know” is an opportunity to look it up together
Interaction Ideas
Children learn through play and interaction. By interacting with your children prior to a natural disaster, you are addressing their psychological needs, increasing their familiarity, and empowering them to feel safer. Here are some activities you can try. For more ideas, check out this article by Weather Wiz Kids.
  • Find age-appropriate items that children can play with that you can use to strike up a conversation. The LadyBugOut bag is stocked with them: light sources, emergency whistles, kids first aid kits, food and drink. Interactions can go like so, “When do you think this light source would be useful? What does each color light on this headlamp work best for seeing?”; “How far could you hear this whistle from? Do you think mommy and daddy could hear you better if you scream or if you blow this whistle? Lets try it!”; “Normally we can eat and drink fresh foods kept cool in our fridge or cooked in our oven/stove but sometimes we can’t get to it because we are traveling or the power is out. We need to know nutritious snacks and drinks we can on the go. What’s your favorite snack?”...
  • Discuss what causes a hurricane to form and how warnings work
  • Learn the lingo! A tropical storm/hurricane statement is issued every 2-3 hours by your local National Weather Service (NWS) office. It will summarize all of the watches and warnings, evacuation info and most immediate threats to the area.
    • TROPICAL STORM WATCH: Tropical Storm conditions with sustained winds from 39-74 mph are possible in your area within the next 36 hours.
    • TROPICAL STORM WARNING: Tropical Storm conditions are expected in your area within the next 24 hours.
    • HURRICANE WATCH: There’s a threat of hurricane/tropical storm conditions within 48 hours.
    • HURRICANE WARNING: A hurricane/tropical storm is expected in 36 hours or less.
  • Understand how hurricanes get their names
  • Talk about Hurricane Hunters and what they do
  • Learn how to use a NOAA radio
Finally, here are my top 3 tips for staying safe during a hurricane:
  1. Follow any evacuation orders and/or any emergency alerts from local government officials. It’s often the case that experts in charge of issuing such alerts have insights into flood potential and other incidental events that can be caused by a hurricane that citizens do not.
  2. Very powerful wind and rain can cause windows and glass doors to break, so be sure to stay away from them. If possible, stay inside a closet or a room that has no windows.
  3. When the wind and rain appears to stop, do not go outside. It’s likely that this is simply a respite and that the eye of the storm is passing through your area, which means there is more storm on the other side.
The more you’re able to involve your child with hands-on interactions and engaging conversations about what to do in the event of a hurricane, the more prepared and confident your child will be for emergencies and everyday challenges as well. Stay safe!