NEW ORLEANS — Preparing your family for a hurricane or tropical storm is so much more than flashlights and battery-powered chargers.
“Disasters such as hurricanes, floods, and other natural phenomena are unfortunately part of the life experiences of many children, especially in our state and city,” said Dr. Andrew Williams, a child and adolescent psychiatry specialist with Children’s Hospital.
“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,” Dr. Williams said.
Being open with children and answering their questions about storms and other potentially traumatic events helps to allay their overall anxiety and distress, said Dr. Williams.
Allowing children to actively participate in helping the family prepare to handle such occurrences increases a child’s feeling of control can also help ease children’s anxieties.
Signs that a child is worrying needlessly could be things like disturbances in appetite, sleep and/or tension, fatigue, headaches, gastrointestinal distress or other somatic symptoms.
Children may engage in repetitive compulsive checking behaviors, too, like looking outside or attempting to access television, internet or other social media sources in a manner that fuels their underlying distress.
“Requesting reassurance that they and other family members are safe is natural, but when such behavior increases to the extent that it significantly impairs a child’s ability to function requires additional attention,” Dr. Williams said. Things like redirection and possible professional interventions may be helpful.
“Of course, children who are already dealing with diagnosed anxiety, mood disorders or have a previous history of trauma are at an increased risk during these times and should be monitored closely, accessing professional help when needed,” said. Dr. Williams.
Best Words of Advice:
- Prepare for hurricane season with children in advance.
- Discuss in a calm, measured 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. It may also be helpful to let children know there are professionals of all types and training who will work with their family to protect and keep them safe when and if necessary.
- Provide children with emergency numbers and contacts and give practice on how to access these resources in advance.
- Watch TV and other media with limitations, 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 an integral part of a safety plan, as they are viewed as part of the family, and children should know that they will be safeguarded as such.
Plans should be made including providing emergency food and water, potential shelters and “pet-friendly” hotels and motels that can be accessed if needed.
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Dr. Andrew Williams is a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at Children’s Hospital New Orleans. He received his degree from Michigan State College of Human Medicine in East Lansing, MI, and completed his residency at LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans, LA. Dr. Andrews has Board Certifications by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology in Psychiatry and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and he specializes in substance use/addiction, thought disorders, anxiety disorders and mood disorders.