Parenting

Preparing children mentally for hurricane season

Joanna C. Buckingham, MD
Preparing children mentally for hurricane season

NEW ORLEANS – As hurricane season returns each June in New Orleans, it's easy to focus on the physical preparations rather than the stress weather events can have on our mental health.

Disasters such as hurricanes and floods are unfortunately part of the life experiences of many children, especially in our state and city. Parents should not "pretend" these events don't exist, but rather calmly acknowledge their possibility and discuss with their children, in an age-appropriate manner, how the family will handle them in the safest and least disruptive manner possible.

What can my child do with me to help the family prepare for a storm?

Answering your child’s questions about hurricanes and allowing him or her to actively participate in helping the family prepare increases their feeling of control and reduces their overall anxiety.

  • Create a hurricane supplies list
  • Make your hurricane emergency kit
  • Create an emergency contact list for your child
  • Calmly talk through your natural disaster plans
  • If you have a pet, look up places to stay that are pet friendly

What are signs my child is anxious before a storm?

Signs that a child is anxious could be lack of appetite, trouble sleeping, fatigue, headaches, and upset stomach. Children may engage in repetitive behaviors, such as looking outside or attempting to access television, internet, or other social media sources in a manner that fuels their anxiety.

Children looking for reassurance that they and other family members are safe is natural, but if such behavior increases, significantly impairing a child's ability to function, you may need to provide your child with additional attention, redirection, and possible professional help. Of course, children who are already dealing with diagnosed anxiety, mood disorders, or have a previous history of trauma are at an increased risk to struggle during these times and should be monitored closely, accessing professional help when needed.

How can I best help my child prepare for hurricane season?

  • Caregivers should prepare for hurricane season with children in advance.
  • Caregivers should discuss, in a calm manner, and put in writing what they will do, with, and for their children, in the event of an approaching or occurring natural disaster.
  • Children need to know that every effort will be made to keep them safe and the family together, even if their day-to-day routine is disrupted for a period of time. Remind your child that there are professionals of all types and training that will work with the family to protect and keep them safe when and if necessary.
  • Children should be provided with emergency numbers and contacts and given practice on how to access these resources in advance.
  • Television and other media access should be accessed in a limited fashion, keeping in mind that such sources may emphasize and even dramatize the potential "worst possible outcomes" playing on the imagination and fears of children during crises.

Pets should also be a part of the safety plan, as they are viewed as part of the family, and children should know that they will be protected. Plans should be made including providing emergency food and water for these loved ones and potential shelters and "pet-friendly" hotels and motels that can be accessed if needed.

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Pets should also be a part of the safety plan, as they are viewed as part of the family, and children should know that they will be protected. Plans should be made including providing emergency food and water for these loved ones and potential shelters and "pet-friendly" hotels and motels that can be accessed if needed.

                                                                                                                                                                                 

Joanna C. Buckingham, MD

Dr. Joanna Buckingham specializes in pediatrics. She earned her medical degree from Louisiana State University School of Medicine in New Orleans and completed residency at LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans. Dr. Buckingham enjoys getting to see patients and families on multiple occasions and build lasting relationships with them.