Parents Shouldn't Minimize Hurricane Fear
by Allen G. Breed
September 05, 2004

FORT PIERCE, Fla. (AP) - For parents and caregivers preparing for something like a hurricane, it's one thing to make sure a child is safe, and quite another to convince them they ARE safe.

Tatyana Roberts looked into the 'deep hole' of Hurricane Frances and knew she wasn't going to be safe at Grandma's house. So how did the 5-year-old know things would be OK at the shelter set up at a high school?

"Because I can't even push that pole down,'' she said, running at a reinforced concrete pillar outside the school and shoving with all her might.

Annie Donald admitted to her daughter that she was afraid of Frances, but she told Tatyana that she was going to take care of her.

Child psychologist John Fairbank said Donald did just the right thing.

"They're picking up that this is an unusual time. Something's going on. It doesn't feel right. It's something dangerous,'' said Fairbank, co-director of the UCLA-Duke University National Center for Child Traumatic Stress.

"And for a (grown-up) to falsely minimize the frightening aspect of this thing isn't going to help the kid,'' he said in a telephone interview.

Ten-year-old Nyqura Clark and her sister, Infiniti, 7, seemed excited enough as they spread their blankets in front of the stage in the C.A. Moore Elementary auditorium on Friday. Their mother, Artura Elmore, told them they were camping out.

But the storm was weighing on their minds.

Their father, Dennis Clark, had stayed behind to watch the house and the family's two dogs. As Elmore backed out of the driveway, Nyqura saw their huge pine trees swaying violently in the growing wind.

"She jumped out of the car and yelled 'Daddy! You better come. Those trees are going to fall,''' Elmore said.

Fairbank said the evacuation is often the most stressful part of a hurricane for children, especially when one family member decides to stay behind. He said it's important to talk to youngsters about why Daddy or Mommy isn't with them, and to include the kids - no matter how young - in the "reunification plans.''

An obvious way to put kids at ease is to have their favorite things around them.

Infiniti brought her favorite Bratz doll, the one with the cracked head. At Westwood High School, children clustered around televisions playing video games and watched Lion King and Ella Enchanted.

Nearly 3-year-old Anna Kimberly was already getting cranky when her family arrived at C.A. Moore on Friday. The family of four moved to Fort Pierce from Indiana in March, and Anna is already afraid of thunderstorms.

"I tell her it's God bowling, because my mother bowls, and that's something she knows,'' her mother, Tabetha Kimberly, said as she staked out a bit of floor for Anna's Winnie the Pooh blanket. "Hopefully she'll be entertained with the other kids and won't notice.''

Fairbank said just being around other children in the shelters helps kids maintain their sense of fun and normalcy.

In a hallway at Westwood High, little children lay on blankets in rapt silence as 10-year-old Macander Dieudonne read from a little book titled Rain or Shine.'

"The sky is getting dark,'' he read, translating into Creole for his little cousins. "Quick, let's get inside. A storm is coming. The sky is very black. The rain pours down. Thunder rumbles.''

Then, suddenly, the storm is over.

"Look!'' he reads. ``A rainbow!''

Macander's mother, Marilia, looked at him adoringly.

"Il est un bon garcon.'' He is a good boy.