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Storm Worries: 7 tips to help kids scared of storms as we prep for Hurricane Florence

Big storms are scary - for adults and kids. Here are seven tips to help kids understand what's happening.

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By
Sarah Lindenfeld Hall
, Go Ask Mom editor

As Hurricane Florence heads toward the coast for a likely Thursday landfall, the focus, for good reason, is on preparation.

We're stocking up on water, canned goods and other non-perishable items. We're double checking the batteries in flashlights. We're waiting in long lines to fill up at the pump.

And we're likely tuning into the news on a more regular basis to get the latest on the track, the timing and the potential for devastation. Officials are warning us to "take action now" and that North Carolinians must brace for a "hard hit."

No doubt, Florence is a monster storm that could pack a serious punch to the region. It's all good advice.

And it all could terrify the little kids - and even big kids - in our care.

Many children are fearful of storms. And that fear can turn to terror as they watch their adults prepping for a potentially massive one.

"That's a normal fear that a lot of young kids have," said Mindy Miley, a certified child life specialist at WakeMed Children's in Raleigh.

Kids won't always say, "I'm scared of the storm." Their fear could present in different ways, including being extra clingy, acting out and even avoiding conversations about the impending storm.

"Kids are always watching us, especially when there is a sense of fear," Miley said.

But, Miley tells me, there are ways to combat their fears - and help our kids better understand their own emotions when a scary event like a hurricane could be headed their way.

Miley shared seven tips to help kids before, during and after the storm.

Talk it out

If a child seems worried, talk to them about it.

"Even though they may not be asking questions, they may be feeling fearful when they hear Mom and Dad talking or hearing the news," she said. "It's important to address it."

Just ask them, she says, "how are you feeling about the storm?"

Include them in the preparations

As you talk to them about their worries, share how your family is getting ready for the storm.

"Include kids in the preparations," she said. "Tell them how you are preparing for the storm, so they realize that there is a plan in place and Mom and Dad are keeping me safe."

Let them help you make a shopping list that includes some favorite snacks or have them turn on all of the flashlights to make sure they work.

Turn off the news sometimes

It's critical to stay on top of the latest news, so you're prepared for what might be headed your way.

But Miley says don't leave it on just for background noise.

"It's good to be informed and have the news on," she said. "When you are actively watching it, great. If it's background noise, turn it off. If it's background noise, the kids are hearing more of the fearful news and seeing the 'breaking news' signs. ... Find a healthy dose."

Get some activities ready

"Prepare some activities," said Miley, "so you have tools to pull out of your tool belt."

Especially for families where video games, TV and tablets are the regular fallback for entertainment, you'll need to come up with some alternatives if you lose power and internet connections.

Scavenger hunts, fort building and indoor obstacle courses can be fun activities for kids, Miley said.

Here on Go Ask Mom, we shared some other indoor activities today and will share more on Wednesday, so stay tuned.

The goal, Miley said, is to keep the kids entertained with "with activities so they don't focus on their fear."

Watch what you say

Until about the age of 10, kids don't understand the humor of sarcasm.

So they can take to heart throwaway comments that we might make as a joke like "we're all going to get washed away," Miley said.

"An eight year old is going to believe that," she said. "They won't understand the sarcasm in there. Use appropriate language. They are very concrete thinkers."

Hold it in

"It's OK to be honest with your kid if you're scared," Miley said. But don't let them see you absolutely freak out.

Tell them, she said, that you're scared, but that you're doing everything you can to prepare.

"We don't have to lie to your kids," she said. "But if you admit fear or admit that you're scared, follow it up with what you guys are doing to prepare."

And as you talk about your preparations, you don't need to explain that the roads might flood or the streets might shut down, which might sound scary to them. Instead, tell them you're stocking up simply because the grocery store might be closed, she said.

Validate their feelings

If they're scared, let them know that's just fine - and not unusual as a big storm bears down.

"We need to validate feelings," she said. Validating children's feelings, according to Psychology Today, makes kids feel understood, builds their self-esteem and even helps cut down on bad behavior.

Say something like, "I know you're scared and that's OK to be scared," Miley suggested.

Do it all over again

If, once the storm hits, and you find yourself without power for days or a tree on your roof, Miley said it's critical to continue to talk to your kids about what you're doing to make things right.

Validate their feelings, she said. Let them know what you're doing to keep them safe. And let them know next steps. For instance, once it stops raining, a crew will come and move that tree off the roof.

It's fine for parents to admit that things are scary , she said.

"Be honest in a developmentally appropriate way," Miley said, "and explain how we're going to fix this."

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