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Hurricanes and Children: How to Help

As Florida’s West coast recovers from the recent impact of Hurricane Ian we’re reminded once more of the toll natural disasters take. Not only is there loss of life and property, but we also suffer loss of peace both before, during, and after the storm.  

All people might feel helpless and agitated during times like these. At its worst this distress may lead to things like chronic anxiety or even PTSD. For children the effect may be compounded.

Children have been shown to experience more anxiety and depression comparatively than adults both before and after hurricanes or similar natural disasters. Since they’re just learning to deal with the world, the fear and anxiety caused by the lead-up and aftermath of storms does not only affect them at the moment but can also lead to developmental consequences.

Kids might react differently depending on their age. Younger ones may throw tantrums, shut down socially and communicatively, cry excessively, or even go back to bedwetting. Older kids may act out with a bad attitude or get into trouble. Children of all ages may suffer appetite loss, stress eating, or sleep disruption.

Before hurricanes the forecasted threat can make a particular impact on kids who maybe have never experienced something like it, or have limited experience. This anxiety is made worse by the media’s tendency to show footage of devastation from previous storms and talk about worst case scenarios.

As the storm gets closer and it becomes very clear your area will be affected, the best course of action is to stay honest and talk to kids about what they can do to prepare and stay safe. This is a way to manage the family’s well being and give them useful tasks in anticipation of staying through the storm or mobilizing to another location.

It’s important to note that all kids react differently - some will be proactive but others may shut down. In these cases extra guidance may be needed to give the child specific activities which are fun for them and make the experience feel less serious.

The storm itself can be scary. It’s important to shelter the kids somewhere safe and have a working radio (hand held, wind-up, etc.) so you can listen to important news. Keep them close, and make sure to know where everyone is at all times.

Afterwards the children may feel anxious about losing belongings or worried about the safety of loved ones. They may become depressed as well. By showing children the positivity of altruism and helping the community rebuild, children may not only learn how to show compassion - assisting others is also known to bolster mental health. With a sense of order and routine children will often take cue.

We interviewed parents and Hurricane Ian survivors Rob and Brit Chepik for this week’s podcast about children and hurricanes, and helping kids through these scary events. Here are five takeaways from the show:

  • Be there for the kids, spend time with them, talk to them. Let them know they’re not alone and that they can help, which brings us to the next tip…

  • Get organized, have a plan. Stay structured and build any routine you can, while effectively preparing for the storm (or cleaning up after). This daily schedule and proactivity will impart feelings of control and safety for the kids.

  • Try your best to make things enjoyable. Especially for younger kids, try to instill a sense of fun or games when preparing if you can.

  • For older kids let them ask questions and be honest but sensible with your answers.

  • Limit the news. The news media can be useful when looking for information, but harmful when it comes to anxiety. Don’t expose the little ones to too much news especially before the hurricane.

For the full interview with Brit and Rob Chepik please check out our podcast this week, The Breakdown with Dr. B, available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and more. You can also find it at www.bregmanmd.com 

Bregman Medical Group is located in South Florida and has helped kids through hurricanes through the decades. We offer online psychiatry and therapy right to your device! Schedule an appointment at www.bregmanmd.com or call 305-740-3340.

References:

https://www.apa.org/topics/disasters-response/tornadoes-kids

https://health.usnews.com/wellness/for-parents/articles/2017-10-16/helping-kids-weather-the-mental-health-impact-of-a-natural-disaster

https://www.tampabay.com/hurricane/2022/09/26/how-talk-children-about-hurricane-ian/


By BregmanMD | October 26, 2022 | Mental Health

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