Helping Children Handle Hurricane Madness

This time of year seems to be hard enough transitioning back to our busy school and work schedules, no less to have to face the peak of another hurricane season that is predicted to be worse than the last. If you are like me, there just seems to be this low level static stress that hangs in a portion of my brain. I visit it daily, wondering if my life will be disrupted like it was last year at this time. When Katrina approached, I went a bit into my survival mode, watching the TV several times a day for updates, waiting, planning what I will do when, in order to prepare for the worst. Although I knew all was well, several times during the days of her arrival I visited that stressful place in my brain. It was an annoying distraction for me.
For children, this time can be more stressful than for us in the sense that their fear, not how to manage it. They don’t have the predictability to plan their survival or problem solve in their brains which hurricanes are serious and which are not. All they know is the feels like, sounds like, smells like a hurricane feeling which can throw some children into serious stress states.
These states can cause such problems as sleep difficulties, eating problems, seeing threat where there is none, fears of being left alone, separation anxiety and more. 
What’s the best way to prevent this undo added stress for children? First, TURN THE TV OFF! If you want to watch to keep yourself abreast of the hurricanes path, do it in another room or go on line to check its progress.
Second, avoid talking about the hurricane in front of your children. It is easy to get hooked into the fear of it so that you think and talk about nothing else but. If the hurricane is eminent, of course, you must address your children about what you will do to keep the family safe. The best way to help them manage their fear is to remind them that your job is to keep them safe and get them involved in helping to keep the family safe through the hurricane. When children are stressed they are much like us. We get busy and plan or do what needs to get done. It is hard to sit still. Just when we think we have prepared to the max, we think of one more thing that we can be busy with to help protect ourselves. Children CANNOT do this. They feel your stress and react by turning into what seems like wild banshees! They climb the walls, fight, act outrageously silly, argue with you, and become irritable. 
Keeping children busy helping you in preparing for the hurricane, helps them to not only feel valuable but a sense of control. In fact, the best way to encourage your child to be helpful in preparing is to have them help create the hurricane safe place; that is where the family will go in the house when the hurricane makes landfall. Keep them busy helping you. Tell them that you need them to help keep the family safe. Remind them how helpful they are being, even if all they are able to do is hold the box of screws you are using to board up. 
Third, model for them stress reducing strategies that help to cut off the stress responses ( ie Be a STAR: Stop, Take a deep breath, And Relax, do yoga, pray, stretch, listen to calming music, cuddle up with blankets, use your Safe Place, repeat aloud a calming mantra: “Breathe Ginny. I am safe. I am calm. I will handle this.”).
Fourth, in the waiting moments, create as much predictability as possible. Have game time, puzzle time, reading time, eating times, wash up times, bed time etc. Have them help create a schedule of events of what you will do while waiting. Try as best as possible to keep the night time routine the same. 
There is no guarantee that any of these strategies will help your child manage their stress, as the survival mode is so powerful and hard to consciously control. But children are more likely to be calm when YOU are calm. Don’t worry that your kids won’t listen to you. worry that they are watching you!”