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How to prepare children for hurricanes

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Living through a hurricane can be a terrifying experience for anyone, regardless of age. These types of emergencies can be particularly frightening for young children, as they may not fully understand what is happening and may react more intensely than adults.

According to Annette La Greca, distinguished professor of psychology and pediatrics at the University of Miami.

start with the basics

(Getty Images/Tetra Images)

Weather terms can be confusing and it is important for children to understand some vocabulary words related to hurricanes. Take some time to talk about keywords you may hear in the media. You may want to start by discussing the definition of a hurricane in simple, age-appropriate language and then move on to more complex weather words.

In the event of an emergency or disaster, tell children that being prepared for an emergency means having a safety plan with your family. Where you go with your family to be protected during an emergency or disaster is a safe space. For example, it could be a genuine safe room that meets the special criteria of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a basement, or a nearby shelter.

Once the basics are covered, you can go into detail about how to stay safe and prepare for the natural disasters that are most common in your area.

stay safe at home

Quarantined family from the Middle East, telecommuting with children due to covid-19, Canada, Quebec City

If your family chooses to stay home during a hurricane, your children should know to stay away from windows, avoid electrical outlets and appliances due to power surges, and avoid stepping in floodwaters, which can be filled with damaging debris.

While at home, keep routines as good as possible. Children find comfort in rituals and routines, so bedtime stories and family meals can help maintain daily structure amid changing weather conditions.

One way to put a child at ease is to limit the amount of news media they consume in front of the children. Children of all ages can be disturbed by the intense images of storms and subsequent damage.

Children can have unrealistic fears of hurricanes, so take the time to talk to them about how they feel. According to Save The Children experts, it is important to be aware of changes in your child’s behavior, sleeping patterns or eating habits. If these behaviors seem to last long after the hurricane hits, seek professional advice.

Understand your evacuation plan

(Getty Images/Franz Marc Frei)

Your family should have a clear evacuation plan well in advance. State Farm suggests that you should include a pre-designated meeting place in case family members become separated, a list of emergency contact numbers, a few different evacuation routes that are easy to remember, and a shelter location that everyone know.

You can explain this plan to children by breaking it down into the most important parts to remember: the meeting place and contact names and numbers. Choose a meeting place that is close enough to your house that the children can walk there, then make the trip together several times. Eventually encourage them to take the initiative so they can imagine doing it on their own. Teach them three emergency contact phone numbers and ask them to rehearse the numbers several times until they can easily remember them.

Your children should also know where your family’s “emergency bag” is in case they need to get it themselves.

If you have children under the age of 5, ask an older sibling or neighbor to watch them in case you get separated. Ready.gov also has a handy workbook designed specifically for younger children to help them understand common natural disasters.

Practice all the parts of your emergency plan with your family until you feel that everyone knows them without fail. You can never practice too much, even if it starts to annoy your kids – in a real emergency, your anxiety levels will be much higher, and it’s easy to forget even the simplest things at such times.

Remind your children that they can always ask questions about the plan and general emergency preparedness. They should also know that it is okay to be afraid during emergencies and that adults can be there to provide mental and emotional support.

B​ianca Barr is the Branded Content Editor for time.com. His professional experiences include radio and television news broadcasting, teaching and strategic communications at a popular (and large!) university in Pennsylvania, and digital services journalism within the weather vertical.

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on the latest weather news, the environment, and the importance of science in our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.