What Parents Need to Know to Keep Their Family Safe and Calm During Severe Weather
It’s spring in North Texas and just like clockwork, severe weather is expected to impact our area this evening. Large hail, damaging winds and even tornadoes are a possibility with the thunderstorms that are predicted to develop by late afternoon. For parents, a forecast like this can bring up many questions.
Should we plan on making baseball practice?
Are we prepared if the storm hits our home or while we are driving?
What can I do to ease the fears of my child who is afraid of storms?
First, your outdoor plans may need to be put on hold. According to the National Weather Service, you should start paying attention to the weather around 4 p.m. today. Storms will increase in coverage during the evening and overnight hours.
Next, have a plan for your family’s safety. Kaysey Pollan, Environmental Safety and Emergency Management officer at Cook Children’s, says everyone should know where they are going to go during severe weather.
“If you don’t have access to underground shelter, move to the interior room or hallway on the lowest floor and get under a sturdy piece of furniture,” Pollan says. “If you live in a mobile home, get out and find secure shelter.”
In addition to knowing where to seek shelter, families should have a designated meeting place away from home (a neighbor’s house or a street corner in the neighborhood) where you would gather if you were separated during an emergency. Make sure everyone in your family knows where the meeting place is located.
If you are driving during a storm, stay in your car and try to find shelter (but not under an overpass). The only exception is if there’s a tornado coming toward you. If you can’t find shelter, get out of the car and find the most low-lying area (ditch, ravine, etc.). Lay flat on your stomach and cover your head with your hands. If it’s hailing, stop driving and find a place to park like inside a garage, under a carwash or a service station awning. If you have small children with you, put them under you and cover their eyes.
Whether or not your child is afraid of storms, it’s important for parents to stay calm during severe weather. Children are quick to pick up on their parents’ fears and anxieties and during an emergency and they will look to you for safety and reassurance.
“Parents should do their best to manage their own anxiety. If parents are calm it will help calm their children,” said Kristi Mannon, Ph.D., psychologist at Cook Children’s Medical Center. “Parents should do their best to avoid watching news coverage in front of their children. Parents can check on weather updates on their phone or a device away from their children in order to stay informed.”
Dr. Mannon also advises parents not to dismiss their child’s feelings or to scold them.
“If a parent needs to complete a task such as preparing dinner and their child is expressing fear, they can take a break for a few seconds, make eye-contact with their child, acknowledge their fear, and tell them they will talk about it as soon as dinner is ready,” she said.
“You can help your child stay calm not only by managing your own fears, but by having a supply kit ready to go,” said Justin Smith, M.D., pediatrician at Cook Children’s Pediatrics Trophy Club. “Make sure you have snacks and something for your child to drink in case you have to remain under shelter for an extended period of time.”
Also, don’t let darkness become an added fear. Dr. Smith advises parents to have flashlights in a place that is easily accessible, and not just the one on your smartphone.
“You don’t want to run the risk of your phone dying and losing your flashlight too. It’s always a good idea to have a real flashlight handy,” he said.
Another tip – distraction can go a long way with children.
“Have a box of items that don’t rely on electricity such as coloring books, board games, a deck of cards or a favorite stuffed animal,” he said. “This can help during the storm and if you have to leave your house during a disaster.”
It is also important to be honest with children about what’s going on. However, make sure the amount of information and detail you share is appropriate for their age level.
- Before the storm parents can let their kids know that their might be a storm. Reassure your child of their safety. Let your child know you are prepared (we have flashlights, we know what to do in storms, etc.)
- During the storm, keep the blinds drawn so they can’t see the rain and wind. You can also help by providing a distraction that keeps their mind occupied and off of the storm. Parents can use favorite music, reading books, building a puzzle, or watching their favorite movie as ways to spend time with their child and offer a distraction from the storm. Fear often comes from the unexpected or feeling out of control.
- Parents can reduce this fear by explaining the importance of rain for our plants to grow and water for animals. They can also explain that even though thunder is loud and scary that it cannot hurt them. Parents can explain where thunder comes from. When lightning cuts through the air, it’s very hot. The heat of the lightning makes the air hot, which makes the loud noise of thunder.” Parents can also let their child have a flashlight close by so they feel secure if the power goes out.
- After the storm, parents can watch an educational show about the weather such as 'The Magic School Bus' or read books to their children about storms. Once their child understands more about storms, their anxiety and stress is likely to decrease.
It’s also a good idea to know the difference between a Watch and a Warning.
A Watch means conditions are favorable for severe weather to occur over the next several hours. The National Weather Service advises you to continue activities as normal, but monitor the weather and be ready to act if a Warning is issued.
A Warning means head for cover! This is an indication that severe weather is imminent or already occurring at your location. Seek shelter on the lowest floor of a sturdy building and stay away from windows.
One easy way to prepare for severe weather is to download the tornado app created by The American Red Cross. It provides alerts, watches, warnings, and plan-ahead lists right to your phone.
The American Academy of Pediatrics also has compiled a thorough list if wants to prepare for a disaster. You can find it here.