Most children thrive on routines and being in control. Every day they wake up, eat breakfast, go to school, do their homework and play with their friends. However children and teenagers can become anxious when their routines are disrupted by natural disasters such as a hurricane or tropical storms.
As hurricane season begins, it's important for parents to talk with their children and provide guidance and support in the case of an emergency. A young child may be worried about being seperated from his/her mother. A 10-year-old may wonder if the house can withstand a storm, and a teenager may be concerned about helping a friend whose family is out of the country.
Parents should try to address those fears in a factual, reassuring manner. If you remain calm, your children will often follow your behavior.
Here are five more suggestions to help your child through the 2011 hurricane season:
- Create a family emergency plan. Sit down with your children and discuss where your would go if you need to leave your home. Be sure to write down everyone's cell phone number - parents, children, families and friends - and put them into your child's phone.
- Prepare for the storm. If a hurricane is heading for South Florida. have your child help with the preparations, such as bringing in lawn furniture, checking flashlight batteries, getting out candles and packing a three-day suply of water, medications and nonperishable foods. Remind teens to fill up their cars with gas.
- Watch television together - in limited amounts. Television is a good way to get information in advance of a storm. But watching too much news coverage can increase a child's fears. It's better to watch the news together and then switch off the TV. particulary if a storm is still several days away. Remember that graphic images of storm damage can be upsetting to young children.
- Get ready to go. If you family needs to evacuate, have your child help with packing. Be sure to include a few special items such a teddy bear, photos or portable gaming device. Your son or daughter can also help gather food, water and any medications for the family pet - a responsibility that can help the cahild feel more in control. Remember, children take cues from adult emotions, so be sure to remain calm.
- Work together after the storm. Once the storm has passed, your children can help pick up tree limbs or other debris that blew into your yard. If there is serious damage to the home, living arrangements may need to be altered, such as sharing a bedroom. Once things settle down, set aside time to talk with your children about how they feel. Emotional trauma can take months to heal at any age.
Sara Rivero-Conil is a licensed psychologist with the Nicklaus Children's Hospital, formerly Miami Children's Hospital, Department of Psychiatry.