During preparation time, at the occurrence of, and in the aftermath of natural disasters such as hurricanes, children are likely to experience fear and anxiety, manifested by moderate to intense periods of hyperactivity, distraction, clinging to parents, excessive talking and sometimes regression of learned behaviors such as toilet training and sleeping in their own bed.
Children with special health care needs are also likely to experience changes associated with anxiety, and change of environment such as restlessness, irritability, and bronchial spasm, among others.
As a parent, it is important to know that behavioral and psychological changes associated with this type of events are usually temporary, and can be prevented to some extent, by observing the following recommendations:
- Talk to children calmly and clearly about natural disasters.
- In the event of hurricanes, tornadoes or tropical storms, let them know that there will be strong winds, lightning and thunder, heavy rains and possible flooding.
- Reassure them that it takes preparation to have everything necessary on hand, but that the most important thing is to remain safe.
- Don’t ignore children during hurricane preparation time. Make them part of the plan by gathering their favorite belongings (i.e. colored pencils, books, favorite small toys, pajamas, etc.) in a bag or box. This process keeps them busy, and makes them feel part of preparation efforts.
- Explain to children that the passage of a hurricane last only a few hours, and reinforce the fact that the family will remain together during this time.
- If your child has a favorite doll, teddy bear or an imaginary friend, ask them to repeat to them your explanation of what is about to happen reassuring you that they have a clear understanding about hurricanes.
- Find a safe spot (a room free of windows or outside doors) where you and your family can gather during the passage of the storm. Make this area as pleasant and fun as possible by referring to it as a “camping spot”.
- During the storm allow children to use their belongings so that they are occupied with activities. Praying, reading a book, playing together and reassurance help children get through this frightening experience.
- If your family is seeking shelter, make sure pets are left in a safe place and involve children in the process. Reassure them that leaving the house is just a SAFETY measure, and that you will returning as soon as the storm has cleared.
- Gather any medications needed for your child and family members and place them in a Ziploc bag.
- Keep this bag with you at all times.
- During and after the storm, telephone communication may be disrupted. Keep your cellular phone charged and with you at all times. Place a list of emergency numbers such as your pediatrician, family physician, police and fire rescue in your medication bag.
- Prepare your children, once the storm is over, and before going outdoors for the aftermath. Talk to them about trees that have gone down, broken windows, houses that may have collapsed, electric cables, etc. Reassure children of the fact that these are expected consequences of the storm and all this damage can be restored in due time.
- If your house suffered damage from the storm, start the rebuilding process in the most safe and prompt manner.
- Avoid crying and emotional outbursts in the presence of children. In a child’s mind these events represent a tragedy, and your calmness and optimism assures them of a quick return to “normal” activities.
- Pick up pets in animal shelters as soon as circumstances allow.
- During the rebuilding process, make sure to clear your garden of debris first to ensure the children have a safe area for play if weather permits.
- In the event of flooding, do not allow your child to swim, or walk in flooded areas. These waters may be contaminated, and may carry debris that can be harmful.
- Remember your Patience, Assuranceand Love (PAL) are probably the most important preventive measures to guide your children through a natural disaster!
For additional information contact:
Nicklaus Children's Hospital
Department of Psychiatry