Department of Children and Families
David E. Wilkins
May 29, 2012
Northeast Communications Director
(904) 723-5470/(904) 233-7792
What Parents Should Say When Talking To Their Children About Storms
JACKSONVILLE, FLA. – Tropical Storm Beryl disrupted many families' routines and brought an early start to our long hurricane season. During this season, children will see television or newspaper reports about hurricanes and damage caused by the storms. The latest National Hurricane Center predictions indicate a busy hurricane season, with up to 10 named storms and four hurricanes. Due to these factors, the Florida Department of Children and Families is issuing expert tips from Child Guidance Center to help parents address their children's concerns during hurricane season.
"We care deeply about children, and we want families to be aware but not alarmed, and to be prepared but not scared," said David Abramowitz, Northeast Regional Director for DCF.
"First, parents need to consider their own fears and their own worries. They must get themselves under control," explained Dr. Theresa Rulien, program director of Child Guidance Center. "Children are watching them and will pick up on their emotions. Many parents aren't aware of this. They're used to telling children 'do as I say, not as I do.' But research shows that children are influenced by their parents' body language and tone of voice even more than what a parent says, especially during a crisis. It's really scary for a child to see a parent who is not in control of the situation."
Here are more expert tips from Dr. Rulien at the Child Guidance Center to help parents when talking to their children about hurricanes:
- "It's a good idea for parents encourage their children to ask questions in order to find out what they're worried about regarding hurricanes. They should listen to what their concerns are and make sure to respond to their questions calmly."
- "Parents should consider how much information a child needs to have. It may not be necessary to go into detail of what a hurricane could do or what damage it could cause. Tell the children only what they need to know about."
- It may be best for parents to pay attention to how much they let their children see regarding video or pictures of hurricane damage. "They may not need to see all the devastation, depending on the age of the child," Dr. Rulien said.
- Preparing a family disaster plan is a way to reassure children that they will be safe and that the family will stay together. "Parents should have a set plan, and children need to know who the neighbors and friends are who can help them. They should also keep in mind that many children like to have a routine and know what's coming up." Additionally, parents should make sure that children know where flashlights and batteries are. Children should also know that certain food and water is for emergency only.
- Children's anxiety can increase if parents wait to get their supplies until a hurricane is approaching. When hurricanes came close to the Jacksonville coast in recent years, there were long lines at area grocery stores, but Dr. Rulien says that this is not a good idea. “Having to react quickly will increase anxiety. Preparation is a much better idea, and it gives us a better idea of what we're doing.”
Nearly half of all families do not have a disaster plan, according to estimates by local emergency officials. Although hurricanes are frightening for adults, experts say they can be traumatic for children if they don't know what to do. Parents should involve children in preparing a family disaster plan by giving them small but specific tasks. Letting children have their own flashlights, for example, may help them feel a sense of control. Additionally, when parents put together an emergency kit, they should pack children's books, puzzles and games to keep them occupied during the storm. By doing this, children's anxiety should be reduced, and they should have an increased sense of security.
The State of Florida has prepared a website to help families prepare their own disaster plans. The website is http://www.floridadisaster.org. After a plan is developed, parents should review and practice it with their children. Parents should talk with their children about what actions their family would take if a hurricane were approaching the area.
Children should know when their family would leave their home and if they would all go to a shelter or to a relative's home. Also, children may want to know what would happen to their pets in the event of a hurricane. Some local shelters do accept pets, as long as they are pre-registered.
Because hurricanes can frequently cause tornadoes, parents should teach their children what to do in the event of tornado activity, and what safe places are available in their homes, such as bathrooms or closets at the lowest level of the home.
These tips are provided as a service by the Florida Department of Children and Families, based on information from Child Guidance Center.