We are officially in hurricane season and based on the past few years, that means that we should expect an evacuation order at some point in the coming months. In previous hurricane seasons, I’ve evacuated by myself with my three-year-old, two-year-old, and two-week-old twins (one of whom was only one day removed from the hospital) and my dog. My husband was overseas and given my twins’ stint in the NICU, I could not risk staying and being unable to access proper medical care. I learned a huge amount in that evacuation that had nothing to do with the official FEMA hurricane prep recommendations and everything to do with evacuating with children. Besides the normal hurricane prep (water, gas, batteries, etc), there are a few things I’ve learned about evacuating with kids.
Tips for evacuating with kids
TALK ABOUT IT
Use age-appropriate language to explain what a hurricane is (and what it isn’t!) and why it’s important to evacuate in advance. My kids are very young, but they love dinosaurs, so I referred to the impending hurricane as a ‘dinosaur storm’ and our family as intrepid explorers who needed to explore other lands and would return once the dinosaur storm had departed. Talking to them about the storm made it seem less scary and adding an element of silliness made them much more excited about the evacuation process.
SO MANY SNACKS
A few years ago, I evacuated to Washington, DC because I used to live there, have many friends there still and they have a world-renowned PICU. It was the right decision, but it was a 12-hour car ride there and an 18-hour car ride back given weather conditions and frequent stops to check my son’s oxygen levels. What did I learn? Toys, games, and snacks reign supreme!
I GROSSLY underestimated how long the trip would take and how bored my kids would become with ‘I Spy’. I learned my lesson on the way back and stocked my car with Target $1 items like no-mark coloring books, stickers, and other car-appropriate activities, plus snacks – so many snacks! – to make the long drive back bearable for all of us. I know space is at a premium when evacuating, but you will be so thankful you made the space for a kids’ fun bag when you’re several hours into the car ride and they are getting bored.
Most young kids have a special attachment to a stuffed animal, a blanket, or some other comfort item. Your child’s sense of security may be tied to that small item, so along with medicine, clothing, and other important items, make sure to include that special item that will bring your child comfort and familiarity.
ROUTINE IS KEY
If you are lucky enough to evacuate to a family or friend’s house, maintaining your child’s normal daily schedule is considerably easier than if you evacuate to a shelter, but to the extent possible, try to maintain your child’s normal sleeping and eating routine. My daughter always naps in the afternoon, so even when we were staying in the hotel, I always made sure that we turned off all the lights and kept her nap schedule. She may not always like napping, but it’s part of her daily routine, and when an evacuation upturns everything else routine in their lives, these small little nods to normalcy will reassure your child that everything is fine.
TAKE CARE OF YOU
Every mom I know would literally do anything to keep their child safe and happy, but in the process of constant care-giving, we forget to take care of ourselves. Once you have safely evacuated and arrived at your safe location, try to take a minute to close your eyes and to take a number of deep breaths to reset your body’s fight or flight response. You are the most important person in your child’s life and if they see you take care of yourself and decompress, it will signal to them to do the same.
I hope that this hurricane season passes by without anything threatening our beautiful city, but if we should have to evacuate, stay safe and we’ll see you when you return home.
Note: Always listen to instructions from local and national officials and be prepared to evacuate when instructed.