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Help alleviate kids’ fears

Most of the time, a loud crack of thunder, a flash of lightning or some high winds are scary to hear or see, but they don’t cause any harm. However, sometimes, a serious flood, hurricane or tornado hits much closer to home than we’d like, causing real damage. 

After a natural disaster, it can be difficult explaining what happened to your children. The next time a storm hits they may be afraid that something bad will happen again. But creating a dialogue before, during and after bad storms can help your child understand the rarity of such events and prepare them for bad weather in the future.  

“It’s tempting to ignore the subject with your children,” said Dr. David Schoenwetter, medical director of Emergency Medicine Services at Geisinger. “But having a conversation about what’s happened may calm some fears and help your kids understand that natural disasters are rare. It’s important to be prepared, but it’s also important to know it’s unlikely they’ll be affected by one.”

If you’re not sure how to broach the subject with your child, review these guidelines to have a productive conversation. 

Determine what your kids already know
There’s a great chance that if a hurricane is about to hit or bad storms are on the way, your children have heard about them already—from friends, social media, TV or even adults who might be discussing storm preparation or the impact of a disaster. 

Ask your child what they know about the situation already. As they explain what they have heard, take the opportunity to clear up any misinformation and answer questions about the situation. Let them know you’re listening. 

“It’s natural to have a lot of questions about a hurricane or tornado, especially if there was a lot of damage,” said Dr. Brian Saracino, an emergency medicine physician at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre. “Use straightforward and simple language to answer your child.”

Remain calm
Before and after a storm hits it’s natural to be nervous or stressed out. But your child will pick up on these feelings and may react without fully understanding the situation. Try to be calm around your children; turn to other adult family members or friends for help. 

Comfort your child, but be honest
Your child may seek to find out why natural disasters happen. They may also be fearful of common rain or thunderstorms in the future if you’ve just lived through a major weather event. While it might be tempting to leave out details to protect your child, it’s better to be honest in your response.

“Rather than avoiding the truth about injuries or fatalities, or saying a bad storm won’t happen again, it’s best to tell your child the truth. Otherwise, they may find out from someone else,” said Dr. Saracino. Instead, explain that the chance of another major storm hitting is low. 

Be prepared
Finally, make sure your child knows that you and your family have a plan for hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and fires. Hold drills at least once a year and ensure that your child clearly understands what to do in case of emergency. 

David Schoenwetter, DO, and Brian Saracino, DO, are emergency medicine physicians at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center.
Photo of tornado damage in Wilkes-Barre Township.