Diane Sasser, Merrill, Thomas A.
News Release Distributed 05/24/06
Don’t wait until a storm is approaching to talk to your children about hurricanes. Everyone will be able to cope better if you get children involved in your plans and preparations, says LSU AgCenter family development specialist Dr. Diane Sasser.
"The best thing is for parents to start explaining things to children long before hurricane season begins," Sasser says. "But it’s never too late to explain what hurricanes are, the dangers they pose and the safety measures to take against them.
"Such discussions can help to alleviate some of the fear and anxiety children – and all of us – suffer when storms are approaching."
Sasser says parents can help their children mentally and emotionally prepare for a potential disaster through advance planning and practice of what to do if a storm is coming. Helping children learn all they can about storms also can help, she says.
"Consider how your children might react during a disaster and what your reactions might be. Then work out a plan in advance on how to deal with these situations," Sasser says. "Families who work together to prepare for a hurricane will cope better than those who do not take precautions."
The LSU AgCenter family life specialist says this year’s hurricane season may be even more difficult for children – since it could bring back memories of the devastation brought by Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita last year.
"Most children already have a negative reaction to the threat of a hurricane, and that could be even worse this year," Sasser says. "The good news is that this reaction will gradually disappear with your help."
Sasser offers this advice on how children respond to stress and ways you can help them cope during the hurricane season:
–Try to keep children as close to their daily routine as possible. Routine is what gives children security and helps them feel things are normal. Give them exact steps to follow whether you’re practicing what you’d do if a storm was coming or actually preparing for a real one.
–Talking, practicing and preparing together can help kids understand a disruptive occurrence like a hurricane. Give children clear information on what is happening and what could happen (within reason and considering their age). Knowing that you understand the situation will ease their feelings.
–Before the storm, you should have designated a safe place in your home for your family. Go to the safe place with your children as practice. Show them where the "safe place" is. Discuss emergency weather plans with children, including what to do if the children are home alone or if the family is separated.
–Consider organizing important family papers and pictures. Being able to grab a picture or document box if you are evacuating or moving to a safe place may help preserve family history or treasures and protect important documents. Think about storing duplicate photos or negatives in an alternate location such as a bank safe deposit box or at a relative’s home.
–Teach your child how to recognize danger signals. Explain that a hurricane is a giant, rainy windstorm. Tell them it can be dangerous and destructive, but that with some preparation (or evacuation), it is survivable. Keep it simple. But remember the more they know, the safer they will be.
–Explain what safety measures you have taken to protect your children and your home.
–Make sure children understand it is important to listen carefully during emergency situation. They should know that adults will be trying to help them, and they should listen to explanations and safety instructions.
–Reading also can provide some awareness and mental preparation. News stories of community disasters can create opportunities to discuss ways your family might handle a similar situation. This gives kids time to think about and create a plan of action for real life disasters. Talking about alternatives also may encourage children to act responsibly, rather than react.
–Remember that children need to talk about their anxieties. This process of talking will help them work out their feelings. Take your children's feelings seriously and reassure them often. Be patient with them.
–Younger children need to work out their fears while playing. Try to help them through this process with comments like, "That tower made a lot of noise when it fell down, didn't it?" or "That baby is sad, isn't she?"
–Explain how to call for help. Teach your child how and when to call for help. Check the telephone directory for local emergency phone numbers and post these phone numbers by all telephones. If you live in a 911 service area, tell your child to call 911.
–Help your child memorize important family information. Children should memorize their family name, address and phone number. They also should know where to meet in case of an emergency. Some children may not be old enough to memorize the information. They could carry a small index card that lists emergency information to give to an adult or babysitter.
–Involve your children in the family's hurricane preparation. Also, allow your child to have his or her own flashlight in order to give him or her a sense of control. A hurricane supply list for children should include games and toys, a favorite blanket or stuffed animal and your children's favorite food or snack.
–Develop and practice a family disaster plan. Contact your local emergency management or civil defense office, or your local Red Cross chapter for materials that describe how your family can create a disaster plan. Everyone in the household, including children, should play a part in the family’s response and recovery efforts.
–Assemble a family emergency kit. Include a flashlight with fresh batteries; battery-powered radio; blankets or sleeping bags; first-aid kit; candle and matches; non-perishable food, such as granola or cereal bars, crackers and pull-top canned food items. (If using traditional cans, be sure to include a nonelectric can opener.) Must-have medications also should be included in an emergency kit.
"The more your children are involved the better they’ll feel in the long run," Sasser concludes. "Start talking to them now. You won’t regret it."
For more information on family life, storm preparation and a variety of other topics, visit www.lsuagcenter.com.