Hurricanes, Tornadoes, and Thunderstorms . . .Oh My! What are kids to do?

When the weather turns against us, adults are not the only ones who think the end of our world might be coming. Kids worry whether life will be the same too.

I was a kid during the worst storm to hit the Pacific Northwest in the 20th Century occurred. Called the Columbus Day Storm, it hit Portland on October 12, 1962, and I can tell you from my viewpoint it was both terrifying and exciting at the same time. As one of 14 cousins--all under the age of 12 years--jammed into my Aunt's living room, I was awe-struck by the power of the wind. When it first began, two of my older cousins took me outside to feel the 40 mph wind as it pushed us down the block on our skates. There was no fear, no worrying, no terror. It was just a windstorm and it looked like fun. However, within an hour, it changed as the winds increased to 100 mph.

While the adults were busy trying to bring two elderly neighbors inside, all of us kids stood huddled behind a picture window and watched trees break in half, a power line com down, and the neighbor's roof fly away. When our aunt saw us by the window, she screamed and rushed us into the bathroom. We had no idea about the danger. To us, it was exciting and we didn't want to miss it. Then things changed. A neighbor was trapped. Our uncle heard the shouts for help, and dashed out of the house. I'll never forget how the sight of him--battered, bruised, bleeding from a gash in his forehead, and covered in dirt, debris and blood, looked when he came back inside. That is when we realized the windstorm was not exciting, it was dangerous.

The tornadoes that hit the Midwest last week reminded me how unprepared we kids were during that horrific windstorm. The little ones had nightmares for months, and the rest of us never viewed the wind the same. Are there ways to prepare kids for tornadoes, hurricanes, windstorms,earthquakes, etc.? And, better yet, are there ways to help ease a child's terror after a catastrophic event? The answer is YES.

  • Develop a safety plan: Identify where they go in the house to be safe, or where the family will meet if something happens when they are not at home.  
  • Help them make a storm kit that includes a flashlight, battery-powered games, extra batteries, puzzles, a tablet, markers or crayons, or anything else that would keep them busy if the lights go out or the storm is raging outside.
  • During the storm, let the kids know exactly what is going on as simply as you can. Make sure you set an example of calm (kids feed off the emotions of the adults around them). Listen to your kids fears, and acknowledge them. Comfort them, and let them know that whatever happens, it is not their fault (kids tend to take on the blame for catastrophic incidents).
  • After the storm, spend time together. I know this can be difficult when the house is destroyed, or there is so much cleanup to do, but it is the most important thing you can do for a child. Being together will make them feel safe. Empower them. Storms take away their control. Give it back to them by assigning them tasks, and praising them to rebuild their self-esteem. And above all, watch for signs of stress. Bed-wetting, nightmares, aggression, changes in behavior, and a fear of being alone are all signs of stress in a child. Help them talk about their feelings, or talk to your family doctor. 
Hurricanes, tornadoes, thunderstorms, windstorms, earthquakes, landslides, and every other natural disaster are tragic events. Help your kids know the dangers, but give them hope. 

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