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Weathering the storm


Preparing for hurricane season means more than packing the right provisions

worried-kid-health-news.jpgDon’t look now, but hurricane season is here. You have planned for your family better than ever before: You’ve made essential lists, mapped your evacuation route and you’re paying attention to weather forecasts.

But what about your kids?
Sure, if you have to evacuate, you’ll pack their clothes, food, toys, and a first aid kit, but how much thought have you given to their mental health needs? When the first storm gets into the gulf this year, it will adversely affect all of us, no matter our age. As parents, it is up to us to reassure our children.

Dr. Jason Wuttke, a pediatric psychiatrist at Ochsner Clinic Foundation, answers our questions about how to mentally prepare your kids for the upcoming hurricane season.

How vulnerable are children in our area for emotional problems?

I’m sure there are a lot of kids out there suffering and struggling. The upcoming storm season is going to bring back a lot of unhappy memories and could trigger some anxiety reactions parents and children.

What can parents do to prevent their kids from feeling anxious?
They need to have an evacuation plan well ahead of the storm, much like you would have fire drill rehearsals. They should know where they’re going, and how it’s going to be arranged. That serves two purposes: It gets parents thinking about what they will do, and it encourages kids to know that there is a plan and that their parents have thought about it.

How much information do they need?
Monitor media overload. Protect your kids from excessive media buildup before a storm. You need information, but 24-hour TV news is going overboard. It can be overwhelming and provoke unnecessary anxiety, especially in younger children.

What do you do if there’s a glitch in your plan?
You model for the child how to think on your feet. It might not be how you wanted it to go, but it doesn’t help to panic or become rattled. Focus on the positive aspects. If you can’t get a hotel reservation, you are still far away from the storm and out of danger.

How can you incorporate familiarity and routine into your plan?
Try to keep routines during your evacuation, like when they eat and sleep. You can instill comfort with familiar items like toys, or maybe a video game. That helps them to turn their attention away from all the things that are different. Bring coloring books or activity books. For older kids, let them bring their favorite music. Kids will take advantage of something that distracts them and takes their minds off of the stress.

Is it all right to lie to your child about the seriousness of an evacuation?

Kids see through lies. In terms of what children need, parents should be savvy to what their kids are cuing them. If they ask if your house is going to flood, you can comfort them by saying you don’t know the answer, but that’s why we’re being extra careful and leaving town. There’s no lie in that, but there are reassurances. You’re telling them, the family is going to stay together and we’re going to be safe.