As a kid, I loved nothing more than a big old thunderstorm. I lived with my grandparents, and they had this amazing covered front porch where we would sit and watch the rain come down. Sometimes with a cup of tea or hot chocolate, sometimes wearing our rain boots so we were ready to jump in the puddles forming on our driveway. I loved feeling scared and safe all at the same time. But that was the point, I suppose; I got to feel safe. But what do you do if your kid is afraid of storms... and that storm isn't necessarily safe?
Life must feel incredibly frightening for those parents out there who are in the midst of dealing with the onset of Hurricane Matthew, the tropical storm that is set to hit the coast of Florida some time on Thursday. The storm, which has now become a Category Four hurricane with 140-miles-per-hour winds, is constantly in the news and on everyone's minds. People living along the coast of Florida, South Carolina, and North Carolina are being evacuated, with schools and government offices closed in most towns. There has been talk that Hurricane Matthew could devastate coastal communities. Even Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando has shuttered it's doors in preparation for Hurricane Matthew — only the fourth time since the park first opened. It's becoming a terrifying prospect for everyone... but how must the little kids feel about the chaos all around them?
As most parents know, kids thrive on a sort of sameness to their days. The nice little surprise aside, kids like to know what's coming. So how do we prepare them as parents when we either don't really know what's next or for what we know is bad news?
...Or at least, as honest as would be age appropriate. It's probably not a great idea to frighten them more by giving them statistics, obviously, but there's no use hiding the fact that a big storm is coming through and it's rather dangerous. According to Krista Puente Trefz, a licensed clinical psychologist in Melbourne, Australia, parents should keep information simple but truthful. Trefz told Paulson from Florida Today:
I tell my kids, it’s like a little kid having a bad temper tantrum. And that’s what the hurricane’s going to be doing. It’s going to be just having a meltdown, a weather meltdown. He understood that.
Trefz went on to advise parents to be open with their kids and remind them that, as a family, you are all in this together.
“Speak in a way that they can understand." She feels that kids should know “it’s important for us to work as a family, and right now is not a time for not sharing with your sibling. We all need to be on the same page right now. Team Family time.”
Asking older kids to help out with their younger siblings by keeping them occupied or comforting them will help keep them calm as well, and remind them that, as a family unit, there is strength in numbers.
Keep The Technology To A Minimum
It's important to keep updated, but constant dire warnings on the radio or television of the impending storm aren't going to assuage your child's fear. Tune into the reports and official statements away from the kids and break down the news in terms kids can understand later.
It's hard, I know. Hard to keep things light when the world must feel like it's quite literally collapsing around you. But humor is almost always the best way to alleviate a child's fear. Keep books on hand that make them laugh, tease them a little maybe. Or do what my kids always loved best; make fun of yourself. Kids love feeling superior, every day of the week. I promise.
Storms — in this case, Category 4 hurricanes — can be a scary thing for kids and adults alike. But if you know ahead of time what works best in terms of keeping everyone calm, you'll all be much better off.