By Thinkering therapy team, September 5 – 2017
In lieu of Hurricane Irma we wanted to reach out and provide some hurricane preparedness strategies keeping the needs of your little ones in mind. The hurricane, even if it does not touch down in Miami, will bring changes to our routines and environment. It is important to prepare your children for these upcoming changes.
We ask that you begin to limit their TV as of now. As the storm approaches, more TV segments may be focused on weather updates. Such updates can create stress/anxiety for everyone, including your children. We want to remind everyone to keep calm as you prepare your homes and families –This is the most important thing of all. If you are not calm, your kids won’t be either. Children rely on adults to help ease their concerns.
Our children like things to be predictable and there is nothing more unpredictable than a hurricane. Schools and extracurricular activities will be altered due to the weather. The worse case scenario about any hurricane is the potential for building damage from high winds or flooding, both of which may result in being stranded with no electricity and not knowing what to do or what is going on. Situations such as these are not pleasant for anyone, let alone a child who does not like changes in routine. Besides preparing for the hurricane buying water, food and gasoline, it is extremely important to prepare everyone emotionally.
Please keep in mind to use a positive and calm voice to talk about the hurricane. Talk to them calmly explaining what a hurricane in simple words: “A hurricane is a big storm with powerful strong winds and lots of rain that can be very noisy . . .”–
Explain what can happen in preparation for a hurricane, including people preparing their homes installing shutters, buying gasoline, food and water. During the hurricane, you might lose power: “We might not have electricity, the lights will not work”. There might be a lot of noises that we do not usually hear – “wind blowing, heavy rain, thunder, lightning….”. Let them know you will have to stay inside, to be safe, until everything is clear – “We will need to stay inside to be safe”. It is important to reassure them, as many times as needed, that they will be safe, the hurricane will be over at some point and the whole family will be together.
Describe what they can expect once the hurricane is over. Children may be eager to go outside when things begin to calm, but remember downed power lines, trees and scattered debris can be dangerous. Keep little ones indoors until neighborhoods have been cleared.
If you have to leave the comfort of your home, take your child’s comforting toys (stuffed animal, blanket), any medications – prescriptions and over the counter (Ibuprofen, Advil). Explain to your child why you have to leave – to be safe – where you will be going and what they can expect in terms that they understand.
Have them being part of the preparation. “We need to get flashlights, batteries, blankets, food…..” “You are in charge of ….bringing batteries, water bottles, etc…. to this box”. Give them a job, making them responsible for things such as holding the flashlight or being in charge of snacks. This makes them feel in control.
Include them in possible solutions: “What do you think we can use if we have no lights? ….. If they cannot come with an answer, give your child choices: “I wonder if we might have to use …flashlights or a plant?” “What can we do if it is noisy?”…. “Should we cover our ears with our hands or our feet?”… Have headphones available to ease the sound of thunder with music. Adding humor usually makes everything easier! Please be careful if you use candles. Do not leave them unattended.
Just like a fire drill, a practice drill might help relieve some anxieties about the unknown. Remember to do it in a calm manner. Knowing what to do will help your kids feel in control.
Children may gravitate towards electronics to occupy their free time. You can look into downloading movies or games for your child. Using electronics might be difficult during and after a hurricane due to power outages or lack of batteries. We recommend that you create a bin of items that are comforting for your child and need no batteries or electricity. Just in case…. think about including unplugged activities and toys that are motivating for your child. These items might include your child’s favorite books, stuffed animals, puzzles, and/or board games. These items will be different for each child. One more thing, if possible, have their favorite snacks/food available. Snacks are important too!
If you have pets, reassure your children that the pets will be ok.
Be on the lookout for stressed and or anxious behaviors in your little ones (i.e. pacing, nail biting, skin picking, scratching, chewing, touching everything, throwing objects, screaming, pushing, excessive energy, mouthing inedible objects, etc.). If you notice any of these behaviors, validate their feelings: “It looks like this might be making you feel scared/sad/worried…”. “I know, this is not fun, it is scary….”. Let your children know that it is ok to be scared and that you were once scared of storms too. Keep reinforcing you are there to protect them and they will be safe. You may offer items to help them self-calm, or take a little time to share calming words/thoughts with them. You can also consider creating a “safe” space for them such as a cozy blanket fort or tent. Small spaces can be very calming. Cuddle, offer “free hugs”. A hug will help kids feel safe and calm.
Some examples of unplugged games and activities:
Build a tent city, or a fort using some blankets and chairs. The children can hide from the storm in their tents/fort.
Make shadow puppets using your flashlights
Create indoor obstacle courses – jumping on pillows, crawling under chairs/tables
Sing children’s songs, change lyrics to make it fun, sing slowly, then fast, or take turns singing.
Building cities, building using blocks –
Playdoh and cookie cutters
White board /markers
Coloring books and crayons/markers
Indoor bowling games