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Earthquakes and Hurricanes, Oh My!

In my life I've only been through one hurricane, Gloria, in 1985. I remember my parents boarding the windows and moving the furniture away from the windows. I don't remember worrying about anything, but then I was only seven and most likely believed my parents could protect me from anything.

Now that I'm a mom myself I know the worries we go through and how much we want to protect our kids but can't say for sure that we can.

To make matters worse, my son is special needs and has extremely high anxiety along with irrational fears. (Let's not ignore the fact that some of that is indeed inherited from yours truly.) I've learned the hard way to always be prepared for life's unexpected events, no matter their size.

Obviously we weren't prepared for the earthquake and honestly, that was my first earthquake, so I wouldn't have known how to prepare him anyway. (How exciting was it though? Of course I was blaming the kiddo because he likes to jump on his bed and all around his room. Poor kid. I did wonder how he got the house to sway, but still, never crossed my mind that it was an earthquake! Here! In Jersey!)

With the earthquake done and Irene's impending doom--could they scare us any more than they did?--I knew I had to prepare him mentally. Simply telling him that it will be ok wasn't going to cut it when it sounds like the house is going to get blown away while the power is out.

First things first, I tracked down as many "kid-friendly" videos I could of what a hurricane is. Nothing too scary, but certainly nothing fun (people out surfing or running in the wind = big no-nos). I wanted him to understand that a hurricane is dangerous but at the same time he shouldn't work himself into a panic attack.

We then got a box together so everything was in one spot to avoid frantic searching. Been there, done that and it only makes anxiety and tensions rise. Inside the box we put:

  • over-the-ear headphones - I recommend cheap ones (we found ours at Five Below for $5) unless you're certain your kiddo won't break them (ahem, by stepping on them perhaps? Just saying.)
  • dvds - to watch on the laptops when the power goes out
  • handheld video games - these we leave charging and are only allowed to be turned on if the power goes out
  • favorite non-perishable snacks - I like to snack when I'm nervous so I let the kiddo do the same on pretzels, gold fish, etc.
  • small kid-friendly flashlight - we use one that has a strap to put around your neck as well as a flashing light, but the kiddo is 10 years old

The headphones are for loud sounds, such as the wind and thunder, which is why we go with the over-the-ear ones. We've tried a bunch of different ones and those seem to be the ones that make him feel the safest.

Once we were all set, I made sure to keep calm myself. Kids feel your anxieties and now that I'm a mom to two, I was feeling super anxious about the hurricane and trying to take care of two kids. I didn't want to let on that I was just as worried as he was. Throughout the day I kept explaining to him what a hurricane is, what it can look/sound like and what sort of damage it could do. He was getting it confused with a tornado and was super worried about the house blowing away. I took the time to explain that while the hurricane can do damage, it's unlikely to blow our house away. I also assured him that it will, eventually, go away. While I can't tell him exactly when, it will, indeed, stop.

Since Irene was due to hit us 8am on Sunday, I wanted everyone sleeping in one room just in case (I told you my anxiety was high!) Saturday night. The kiddo and I camped out on the couch together while the baby slept in her sleep n' play. I was up most of the night, but the kiddos slept soundly. We all woke up about 6am and I made sure to send him into the other room before I put on the news. The media coverage on the storm was astounding and was scaring me at times, so I didn't want him watching and getting worked up, especially with the eye soon to be upon us.

Miraculously, our power remained on and aside from a small leak, we came out unscathed. We experienced super heavy winds all day Sunday and it was another opportunity to explain to him what a hurricane does and how to stay safe (by not going outside to play in the windy conditions). I definitely feel preparing your children for an event, as scary as it may be, is worth it in the long run. There may be some obsessing prior (depending on your kiddo's personality) but the knowledge of what's to come will take away some of the fear of the unknown. Just be sure to gear the information towards what your child can understand.

I hope you are all safe and sound with your loved ones!

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Comment by Hackensack Meridian Health on August 30, 2011 at 9:02am
Great article Erin!  You have some great suggestions.


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