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4 ways to keep your children safe during a natural disaster

“Mommy, what happens in a hurricane? Are there tornadoes during the storm? If our house floods, will we float away? How do people die in hurricanes?”

I was bombarded with questions the minute my two little ones heard of the latest hurricane churning in the tropics. Although they have lived in South Florida their whole lives, they have never had to face a natural disaster.

As parents, it can be easy to dismiss a child’s concerns during or after a natural disaster. After all, adults may be under an immense amount of stress themselves as they try to put their lives back together or make sense of the events that are about to or have just occurred. However, parents have a unique responsibility to create a safe and secure environment for their children in such uncertain times. Whether it is a hurricane, earthquake, fire, or flood, children can cope with these potentially devastating events if parents keep open lines of communication at all times.

Here are a few tips to keep your children feeling safe and secure both before and after a disaster:

1. If possible, talk to your children in advance of the disaster. Talking to children on their level before an emergency or disaster occurs allows them to be better prepared for what lies ahead. By explaining to them what happens during a storm or earthquake beforehand, children will know what to expect in the upcoming days, ultimately making them feel more secure.

2. Have a disaster plan. Be sure you have all necessary supplies on hand. Also be sure your children know where to go in case disaster strikes suddenly. Older children should know their phone number and address in case they are unexpectedly separated from you.

3. Stay calm. Children quickly pick up on a parent’s stress level, and they will look to adults for clues how to behave. Although it is important to be honest, make sure it is tempered to their age level.

4. Keep lines of communication open. Life will be hectic after a disaster, but remember to engage your children in conversation about what they are thinking and feeling. When you can know where their worries and fears lie, you can better help them develop coping strategies.

Be aware that psychological effects of disasters may not subside immediately even after life gets back to normal. Some studies suggest a child can show signs of distress for up to two years after a disaster. If your child is having persistent nightmares, behavior/personality changes, extreme anxiety, or any other concerning signs, be sure to talk with your pediatrician about ways to help your child cope.

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About Dr. Kristie Rivers, Bundoo Pediatrician

Dr. Kristie Rivers is an Attending Physician, Assistant Medical Director of the Pediatric Hospitalist Program, and Director of Pediatric Medical Education at a children’s hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. She cares for hospitalized children and also teaches pediatric residents and medical students.

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