Calamities such as intense thunderstorms, hurricanes and tornadoes, can bring with them torrential downpours, whipping winds and punishing erosion to once-pristine communities. It is a natural part of life that we as adults have grown accustomed to, but for a child’s curious, little mind, it’s another story.
The incessant flashing of lightning and deep growls of menacing thunder can be an extraordinarily terrifying experience for babies, toddlers and children who are simply too young to understand Mother Nature’s occasional wrath.
Just like you need to take special precautions for pets during a hurricane, you want to do the same for children. The younger they are, the less likely they are to understand what is happening. That can lead to extreme anxiety and stress that is entirely avoidable with the help of these expert tips.
How to Keep Children Safe During a Storm
In the age of coronavirus, there is even more to consider, says Andrew Roszak. He is the Executive Director for the Institute for Childhood Preparedness, Chief of Preparedness, Health and Environment for the Region II Head Start Association and an adjunct professor in the School of Community and Environmental Health at Old Dominion University.
- Stock Your Supplies
Supply runs are even more challenging when trying to during COVID, so use online shopping and exercise social distancing while you gather your storm must-haves.
“If families plan to stay at a community shelter, they should bring [personal protective equipment] PPE and supplies including masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, soap, pillows, blankets, towels, water, and non-perishable food to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” says Roszak.
- Gather your child’s records
Medical records which include a child’s medical information and health insurance details should be kept digitally. Hard copies should be secured in a resealable plastic bag in case of floodwaters.
- Monitor Weather Reports
Be sure to have a radio on-hand, so if internet and cell service go out, you can still remain aware of developing weather patterns.
- Follow Evacuation Orders
If things get bad, don’t hesitate to evacuate. Tornadoes and hurricane storm surge are no laughing matters, so make sure your gas tank is full, your evacuation route is ready, and your bags are packed with everything you need in case you need to leave town at a moment’s notice.
Special Tips for Infants During a Storm
It’s an entirely different issue when preparing young children for a serious storm. It is easy to assume they’re too young to understand, but that’s not the case.
That is why it is so important to prepare for the coming storm so that when it arrives, you can focus on the needs of your child. These are some things to consider for your child-friendly storm preparation.
Stock Your Supplies
In addition to hurricane supplies, you will need to stock specific infant-friendly products for the storm.
Your hurricane shopping list for infants should include:
- Water (one gallon of water per day for five days minimum)
- Powdered formula or jarred baby food
- Disposable baby wipes
- Old receiving blankets or other blankets
Your child is likely to become more attached to you, needing that extra security when fear is present. Be patient, and know that your child may act out or experience temporary behavioral setbacks from such a stressful experience.
Watch Your Nonverbal Cues
Infants are nonverbal and thus rely on things like facial expression and tone to determine the mood of the room. Be cognizant of your body language and facial expression. When holding your baby, make sure your breathing is slow and steady and try to relax your body. Your child will sense this calm, and it will go a long way in assuaging frazzled nerves.
“Children often take their behavior cues from adults. Projecting calm and confidence can go a long way in helping your child,” claims Roszak in his new three-part book series, Preparing for the Unexpected Series.
Special Tips for Toddlers and Young Children During a Storm
Just like babies, toddlers and young children have their own unique needs.
Purchase Your Supplies
Your hurricane or storm shopping list for toddlers and young kids should include:
- Extra clothes
- Games, books and puzzles
Talk to Your Child
Try to explain the coming storm and what they can expect. If they understand what a storm is and how it works, they may feel calmed by that knowledge - especially if you have to evacuate.
“Parents should set aside time to talk to children and find out how they feel about the hurricane and the coronavirus pandemic. These two events can be extremely traumatic for children of all ages,” Roszak explains.
Ann McKitrick, Early Childhood Specialist for Nurtured Noggins, agrees. "Put on your best face with your child - smile and speak calmly even as you might be feeling inward panic. They don't need to know the grownup details. They simply need you to take care of them, play and assure them if things get scary. Try to keep things as normal as possible.”
You should also give your children the tools they need to find you in case you are separated in the storm. “Have children memorize their home phone numbers and address,” says Roszak, “and teach children how to locate the designated, safe meet-up point.”
Try to resume regular routines as much as possible. Your child can find comfort in normal, everyday activities like regular meal times and bedtimes.
“Stock up on a child's favorite non-perishable foods and drinks,” recommends Roszak, “as these items can help calm them during a hurricane.”
Surround Your Child with Comforting Favorites
There are times when you may be confined to certain areas while the storm rages outdoors. Make sure this time is spent with all of your child’s favorite things, such as special stuffed animals, toys or games.
If you have to evacuate, make sure you bring these items along. These can bring a piece of home to wherever you are and help your child remain distracted.
Keeping Kids Entertained During a Hurricane
“Because there's a good chance that the electricity will be out, parents should entertain children with non-electrical toys and games,” says Roszak. He recommends activities that don't require electricity but imagination.
Singing, a guessing game and playing with a toy are all great ways for parents to keep kids entertained and less focused on the storm. It also brings a familiar sense of routine while you bond with your child. Try to shield your child from sensationalized or graphic TV and radio reports that can alarm them and increase their anxiety.
“Adults should look for creative ways to engage with children. Some battery-operated radios use crank-mechanisms. Children love playing with the crank handles – turning this into a game is a win/win – as it keeps the radio or flashlight charged and provides entertainment for the child,” Roszak suggests.
Dr. Balint Horvath, a proud dad and parenting blogger as Founder of Projectfather.com, tells us, “To keep your children entertained during the storm, anything and everything can be turned into fun at home. For instance, cooking with your children and teaching them how to prepare their favorite meals. Practicing drawing, coloring, and other artistic activities can be fun as well.”
It is a level of creativity that works well for his household, which can experience sweeping storms from the Swiss Alps. “Even cleaning out wardrobes with your children can become a fun activity, if done with the right attitude. We share such fun ‘duties’ between my fiancée and me whenever there’s bad weather outside.”
Creativity is something Roszak incorporates, as well. “Look for opportunities to incorporate fun into weather emergencies. For example, when lightning flashes, pretend it is a camera flash and encourage children to smile for a photo. Mimic the sound of thunder by clapping your hands.”
No matter what activities you choose, just be sure to keep your children safe. Gather your children and pets in a room with no doors and windows, so you are protected from the elements.
The Bottom Line
A severe storm can be a stressful experience fraught with fear and anxiety for babies and young children, but there is a lot that parents can do to put their children at ease. A little communication and a lot of creativity go a long way, but most of all, don’t forget to give your child reassurance and love.
(Photo by Renee Eppler / GettyImages)