ORLANDO, Fla. – With the coronavirus pandemic still underway, it’s been a tough year already and adding talks of hurricanes to the mix might only seem to bring new waves of anxieties, especially for children.
Unfortunately, though, not even COVID-19 can cancel hurricane season in Florida, which means ready or not, here it comes.
I’m assuming you’re reading this because you’d prefer to be ready vs. not, so we spoke to an expert about some of the best ways to prepare you and your little ones for what storm season could bring.
Many of us just had to completely change the way we live because of a global health crisis and while it can seem overwhelming to try to switch gears now and begin thinking about hurricane season, Rachel Prete, DO, chief quality officer of newborn care at Winnie Palmer, says that instead of thinking of them as two separate challenging tasks, you should actually think of your pandemic planning as a jump start to your hurricane season preps.
Prete said in many cases, parents have been stockpiling supplies that their children would need in the event of a storm for months now, without even realizing it. Last year, at the start of the pandemic, many were forced to buy important household items if and when they could get their hands on them due to shortages in items caused by panic buyers.
Prete recommends parents take a look at all their stockpiled supplies and get started on replenishing any items they may be low on before a storm strikes.
According to Prete, parents should make sure they have any medication their child takes on hand in case they’re unable to visit a doctor or pharmacy during or after a storm. If your child is on the verge of needing a refill, Prete recommends calling their doctor to see if you can fill it early and remember to ask them about a backup supply.
Parents of newborns should stock up on plenty of diapers, wipes, formulas and other everyday items. That way, if a storm hits and it takes several days for stores to reopen, you’re in good shape.
Aside from those essential items, Prete said while preparing for hurricane season, parents should think about anything they use on a regular basis and how a storm and potential power loss might disrupt your ability to do that.
For example, breastfeeding moms might need to think of a backup plan for storing milk should they lose power at home.
"I always like to tell moms to think about, if your power goes out, that precious supply of breast milk you have in your freezer, you know, what is your plan for that?” Prete asked. “You know, if somebody -- can you take your breast milk to somebody else's house who may have a generator, if you don't have a generator, or a home generator, right? Or have a backup battery supply for your freezer, because those are real things. And it would be obviously so upsetting to somebody to lose their entire supply of breast milk potentially that they have to feed their baby with, right?”
Much like you probably have if your child has been staying home from school during the coronavirus pandemic, Prete said you’ll also want to think of ways to keep your children occupied during a storm so they’re not focused on any chaos.
She recommends building a kid-friendly storm kit – or restocking the one you may have already put together to maintain your sanity during the pandemic -- that consists of a few crafts, games or even electronics.
If your kid, for example, loves their iPad, you’ll want to make sure it’s fully charged before a storm and that you have a backup charger in your kit.
Prete said you’ll also want to snag some batteries from the store to make sure you have enough for any of their battery-operated games, as well as flashlights or other things around the house that might need a replacement if you’re without power for an extended period of time.
Ready.gov also offers kid-friendly games and other useful resources to prepare children for storms.
One of the best things you can do for your child while planning for hurricane season, Prete said, is include them.
She said anticipatory guidance can help eliminate some of the uncertainty that a storm can bring to a child, especially after already having had to make a lot of changes in their everyday lives recently due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Talking to them can help soothe some of their anxiety before they even realize they’re experiencing any.
"Getting them involved, letting them know that, you know, we're a team. We're a family, talking through those anxieties and asking your kids if there's anything they're scared of, because, you know, a lot of times anxiety in children can present as just belly pain and maybe their stomach hurts and they're not really understanding what's causing that discomfort in them when definitely it could be anxiety,” Prete said.
Prete said that having to adapt to living during the pandemic and seeing things reopen after being shut down for months can be used as a hopeful example to children who are worried about what life might look like on the other side of a storm.
“I think the good news is, is that they've already been through kind of a stressful situation recently. And we've kind of come, you know, to the other side of it somewhat, so things are starting to open back up so they see that, 'Okay, even though there's a time of uncertainty, that things will get back to normal and we'll be OK. We'll see this through,’” Prete said.
She recommends using the pandemic and hurricane season conversations as educational experiences to let your child know ahead of time that if something does happen, you’re going to be OK because your family has a plan that you’ve developed together.
She said it’s also important to continue that conversation and level of involvement after a storm.
“And then after the storm, you know, if, let’s say something terrible does happen, you lose power, or you have a bunch of trees down in your yard, you know, making your kids involved in the process,” Prete said. “(Say) ’Let’s go outside. Why don’t you help me pick up some sticks?’ and those kind of things. And helping them be a part of it with their team and their family would help them ease their anxiety.”
Additional resources to prepare children for hurricane season, including kids’ emergency plans and games, can be found here.
You can find more resources to start building your storm kits and preparing your home and family at ClickOrlando.com/Hurricane.