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BLOG: 7 tips to ease your child's storm anxiety (and yours too!)

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Hurricane approaching state of Florida

During hurricane season from June 1 to Nov. 30, tensions run high in Palm Beach County.  Here are seven helpful tips to ease some of the fear and anxiety your kids may feel as you prepare for an approaching storm:

  1. Remain calm. If children see adults around them panic, they may panic too.
  2. Be aware that your child may not know how to describe their symptoms of anxiety. Here are some signs:

           • Stomachache or headache
           • Tightening feeling in chest, butterflies in belly, lightheaded or dizzy, sweaty hands or feet, shakiness
           • Irritability (which may or may not be visible by others), disruption in sleep or eating patterns, distractibility and forgetfulness

        If your child has any of these symptoms, let them know they may be feeling anxious and that it's normal. You can say something like, “It must be really scary to have these feelings and not know what they mean or how to make them go away. Many kids feel anxious. In fact, most adults feel anxiety when a hurricane is approaching.” Then focus on preparing together, which can help ease both of your minds.

  1. Explain, in an age-appropriate way, what’s going on around them. Let them know why everyone is rushing to the store to get water and supplies. Explain what a hurricane is (in simple terms, if need be). Answer questions in a calm voice.
  2. Let them help with hurricane prep in a way that works for you, such as asking them to bring their toys in from outside so they’re safe.
  3. Warn them what may happen so they’re not surprised if the power goes out. Give them a flashlight to hold so they feel safe.
  4. Lastly, try to keep as much of a routine as possible to provide some semblance of  normal life, whether you're sheltering at home, in a hotel or at a family member’s home in another state. You can say, “If a hurricane does come, we’ll do the same things we always do together. We’ll play with your toys, we’ll read a bedtime story. You will be safe, and I will be with you.” 
  5. During the storm, try distraction with games, puzzles, blanket forts, etc.
For older children, you can use similar techniques. But, once again, make it age appropriate. Be honest. Answer their questions. Let them help. And remain calm.

Lastly, you can practice deep breathing exercises together. Here’s how: Pretend to hold a flower in one hand and a candle in the other. Breathe in to smell the flower. Hold for three seconds. Breathe out to blow out the candle.

Sarah Shrier, a licensed mental health counselor, is the former director of clinical training with Center for Child Counseling in Palm Beach County.

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