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Weathering Hurricanes with Kids

September 7th, 2017     By Boys Town Contributor

Anxiety, Family, Parenting Skills, Stress

Hurricane Harvey has barely left the scene, carving a swath of devastation across the Gulf Coast, and now Hurricane Irma — the strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded — is headed right for Florida’s east coast.

These massive storms can be difficult enough for adults to comprehend; for children, they can cause extreme levels of anxiety. Most of the time, parents are the only adults kids can turn to during times of emergency. That means you need to be a figure of calm reliability and comfort for your children.

Model Calmness and Communication
Your children observe and imitate you, virtually from the moment they’re born. This is especially true during times of stress. In other words, if you panic, so will they — and nothing compounds the stress of an emergency like freaked-out kids. Keeping your composure has never been more important.

That said, let your children know that it’s okay to be scared, but they should take comfort in the fact that you are all together as a family. Let them know, too, that you consider keeping them safe your No. 1 job. Allow them to ask questions about the storm. They’ll look to you for answers, so try to resist snapping at them if their questions seem inane or irrelevant. They’re just trying to get a handle on the situation, the same as you.

It’s a good idea to keep your kids’ minds occupied when you can to help them focus on something other than the storm. One way to do this is to assign jobs to each child. For instance, one can be in charge of making sure the pets are safe and have adequate food and water. Another can be in charge of flashlights and batteries.

Observe Your Children
It’s easy to miss a behavioral change in kids when your mind is occupied with an emergency, so keep an eye on your children’s behavior and note anything out of the ordinary. Common reactions to stress and anxiety include the following:

• Decreased concentration and attention
• Irritability
• Withdrawal
• Angry outbursts
• Aggression

If your children exhibit these behaviors, they may require some extra reassurance from you.

After the Storm
The stress and anxiety don’t end when the storm surge recedes. As we saw after Katrina, hurricanes can disrupt people’s lives for months and years after the storm. Try as best as you can to return to as normal a routine as the situation allows. Children find adhering to a routine comforting. That means going to bed at a regular time, completing homework, doing chores, etc.

Children may show concern for friends and loved ones with whom they’ve lost contact due to cellular and data outages or power failures. This is perfectly normal. Let your children know that, just like them, their friends have parents and loved ones who are taking care of them.

If your children show any post-storm changes in behavior that concern you, call the Boys Town National Hotline at 800-448-3000 at any time of the day or night for confidential advice. If behavioral changes become severe or otherwise disruptive, seek the help of your child’s pediatrician or other health care provider.

Unfortunately, you can’t control when a hurricane strikes your area; however, you can reduce the negative impact it has on your children by being prepared, remaining calm and communicating with your kids.

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