Preparing Your Child for Hurricane Stress

Children face the same type of distress as you as we all prepare to experience a major hurricane. Young children have never experienced hurricane stress like this. You must prepare your child without scaring them. I recommend you evacuate the area if you have children under 10 years old. If you stay for the hurricane explain that this will be a really bad storm and there could be a lot of unusual noise such as banging, pounding, howling wind, and clattering. Prepare your child for the atmospheric pressure change that may occur in their ears. Your child may feel like they are on an airplane with the changing air pressure surrounding the storm.

Hurricane Irma

It appears Hurricane Irma will make landfall during daylight hours which is beneficial and less scary for children who are naturally afraid of the dark. Show your child the safe space in your home and discuss how you may be in there for hours. Explain that you need them to be on their best behavior and do what mom and dad say. Have quiet activities for your child to do during the storm such as coloring or watching a video using headphones. Have your child’s blanket, snuggie, lovey, or what ever you call her security item with you at all times.  Allow your child to comfort her baby doll or your pet because she will simultaneously be comforting herself.

During the storm process your child may require additional reassurance that everything will be all right. She may want to stay by your side. Some children experience heightened emotions and moods. These are all typical behaviors from stress. As I wrote in, Stressed Out! Solutions to Help Your Child Manage Stress, children’s stress may emerge in unusual behaviors or rituals. Your child’s agitation might manifest as hyper energy or an inability to self calm and settle down. This experience causes some children to overgeneralize and believe any storm will have the same intensity as Hurricane Irma.

Three strategies to help children manage hurricane stress

After the storm, try these three strategies to help your child manage stress. First, ask your child to draw a picture of the hurricane experience. Art can be therapeutic and it helps children express inner feelings. After your child is finished with the picture ask, “Tell me about your drawing.” Allow the child to explain their art. Your child won’t have a right or wrong answer but just follow his lead and ask open-ended questions.

If your child is now fearful of any storm, create a written plan. List out the steps you’ll take if there is a storm. Post these on the refrigerator. Then help your child practice a positive inner dialogue by saying, “It was scary during Irma but I was ok. I’ll be ok during this storm too.”

Third, once in recovery mode, involve your child in helping because children feel valued when they can help. For example, your child may hold a bake sale to raise money to donate to an organization such as the Red Cross. When your child helps others it helps place her focus on others and take her mind off of her worries.

Call us if you need professional help managing your child’s stress.