How Parents Can Help Kids Understand The Dangers Of Hurricanes

Experts recommend talking to kids about the dangers of hurricanes and making sure they feel safe and taken care of.
Posted at 5:08 PM, Sep 13, 2018

The dangers of hurricanes can take heavy psychological tolls on adults in threatened areas — but that toll can be even greater on children. 

"Right now, we're waiting for the rains to start. But Hurricane Florence is poised to produce life threatening flooding and winds for children and families along the coast of the Carolinas," Sarah Thompson said. "We're really making sure that kids and parents can prepare and be ready for the hurricane, but then also we're currently coordinating with partners and shelters to make sure that children's needs can be met quickly and effectively."

Thompson is Save The Children's Director of U.S. Emergencies. Right now, she's in North Carolina with an emergency response team to make sure that the immediate needs of families and children can be met post-impact.

Before that happens, however, Thompson and other experts stress that parents should make sure children feel safe and taken care of.

"We want to make sure that parents talk to kids about the storm before it happens," Thompson said. "Always reassure kids. Let them know that you're planning to keep them safe and that during an emergency there's going to be other caring people like teachers or first responders working to keep them safe."

That may seem pretty straightforward or simple, but preparing for a hurricane really isn't either of those things. The process can be emotionally distressing and that distress can be contagious — especially for kids who don't have the same coping mechanisms that adults do.

To help parents with this, Save The Children created the "PrepStep," a song that can help kids understand hurricanes in way that's accessible and comforting.

Other groups like Sesame Street In Communities offer similar learning tools featuring familiar characters like Elmo.

Because recovery efforts can take months or even years, offering comfort and bringing back familiar routines can help kids cope with the aftermath of hurricanes and avoid the longterm effects of trauma — like anxiety or PTSD.  

"Listening to their thoughts, their emotions, letting them know that's okay to feel [bad], reassuring them that people are working to keep them safe and making sure you're giving them outlets and getting them back to normal," Thompson said. "So, getting back to school or childcare is really important, because it's a regular routine, or doing the hobbies that they like to do. You just need to make them feel, again, that the storm hasn't taken everything away from them." 

Additional reporting from Newsy affiliate CNN.