Q: There’s been a lot of dramatic weather in our area recently, and it worries my kids. How do we prepare for flooding or a hurricane, and what should we do afterward?
A: After a hurricane or flood from other causes, families face a variety of challenges, but there are several steps you can take to help you protect and support your children during these times.
If your community might be hit by a hurricane, prepare. Create a disaster supplies list, and store extra food, water, cash and medications in a large bag or backpack you can grab if you need to flee. Secure your home (board up windows and put away patio furniture and other items outside the house) to reduce damage from the storm. Some storms are just too dangerous for sheltering in place, so evacuate if authorities tell you to do so.
If possible, do not return to your home after a storm until basic utilities are restored. It is hard to take care of children if there is no running water or electricity, or when sewage systems are not working. Hospitals, doctors’ offices and pharmacies may be closed, or only able to offer limited services. Grocery stores and restaurants may also be closed.
Make sure your home and neighborhood are safe before bringing children home. Children and adolescents should not participate in clean-up efforts. Floodwaters can contain hazardous chemicals and water can be contaminated with sewage and germs, which can infect cuts or wounds.
Follow CDC tips about how to prevent mold growth and clean up safely. If you still do not have power and need to run a generator, make sure you keep the generator outside and at least 20 feet from your house.
Use caution because damaged structures and other debris may have sharp edges and points that can injure children and adults. There may be animals or spiders hiding in the debris. Keep in mind that children do better with routine and structure. If they are not able to return to school or child care, set routines within the home, such as a regular time for meals and bedtime. Try to limit the amount of time you are separated from your children. When you do have to leave children in someone else’s care, be sure to let them know when you will return.
Talk to your children about what’s happening and how they are feeling. Choosing not to talk about what has happened makes the event more frightening for children. Silence suggests that what happened is too horrible to speak about. Start by asking your children what they have heard about the events. Ask them how they feel about what is happening and whether they have any fears or concerns. Provide appropriate but honest reassurance. Remind children of the steps being taken to keep them safe and rebuild the community.
The amount of information that will be helpful to children depends on their age, developmental level and typical coping style. In general, older children want, and will benefit from, more detailed information than younger children. Take cues from your children as to how much information to provide. For children of all ages, do not provide too many details or share graphic images or emotional coverage, such as TV interviews with crying victims.
Do not tell children they shouldn’t be worried. Help them learn how to deal with distressing feelings rather than pretend that these feelings do not or should not exist.
Look for changes in behavior that suggest your child is having difficulty coping. It is common for children to experience changes in sleep or eating, such as decreased appetite or overeating. They may struggle with fears or anxiety, including a fear of returning to school, social withdrawal, sadness or depression, new hyperactivity or physical complaints (such as headache, stomachache or feeling tired).
In addition, future severe weather (or anniversaries of the event) may remind children of the disaster, which can increase feelings of distress. If these reactions continue over time, become severe, or affect your children’s ability to learn and socialize, contact your pediatrician or another professional.
Dr. David Schonfeld is a developmental-behavioral pediatrician and director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Dr. Scott Needle is a primary care pediatrician and the chief medical officer for Elica Health Centers in Sacramento, California. Both are members of the executive committee of the AAP Council on Children and Disasters For more information, go to HealthyChildren.org, the website for parents from the AAP.
Source: Berkshire mont