Hurricane Matthew is starting to arrive here in Eastern North Carolina and bringing with him lots of sensory stimulation in the form of heavy rain, strong winds, and red alert alarms going off on cell phones and TVs. All of these are new and potentially scary things for kids. Families are also forced to stay indoors and may be without power which can further increase stress and anxiety in both kids and parents. Remember that all behavior is communication; your child is telling you something when s/he shows challenging behaviors. Most often in these situations it is anxiety and worry. Hurricanes and other storms can be made more manageable by following these tips:
- Create a schedule. Remember that a schedule creates feelings of safety because it creates a sense of knowing what is coming next. Anxiety stems from not knowing what is going to happen next and when children have a basic schedule to follow it can be easier to deal with the anxiety of the storm because they have something that is predictable in the schedule. It can be written on paper or a white board or even have them help create the schedule. You can use pictures or written word, whatever is most appropriate for your child.
- Music. Music or any other rhythmic sound has the power to influence our mood and energy level. Playing low levels of calming, soothing music can help set the stage of a calming environment. Perhaps find a classical music station on your battery operated radio if you have lost power or even sing lullabies or other calming songs with your child.
- Model calm. We know that our own moods and actions has a huge effect on those around us, including our children. By keeping our voice calm and even and using reassuring statements, we can help our children feel more safe which can help them to relax.
- Use heavy work. We know that feelings of exhaustion after a good workout. We can elicit those same feelings in our kids but instead of doing cardio activity which may wind some kids up, we can use “heavy work” activities that get their proprioceptive systems regulated. (More about the proprioceptive system here) This system can be activated by giving deep pressure massages or squeezes, wrapping your child up in a blanket like a burrito, chewing crunchy foods, sucking thick smoothies through a straw, or pushing or pulling heavy items like helping vacuum or moving boxes.
- Talking about it. Give your child space to say they might be scared or worried. You can help give your child the language to use if verbal language isn’t a strong skill or have them draw a picture of their feelings or worry. Remember that the important part is for them to feel heard and understood so after sharing or drawing, be sure to repeat back to your child what you heard for example “Sounds like you’re worried Daddy won’t get home before the storm hits” or “Sounds like you’re mad that you have to miss the party planned for this weekend because of the storm”
Stay safe and dry!