how can I help my child's anxiety about storms and bad weather?
Fears about thunderstorms, tornadoes or other inclement weather are common in children. Storms can be very overwhelming for some children, with flashes of lightning, booming thunder, high winds and pounding rains resulting in sensory overload. As children get a little older, they understand that sometimes storms and tornadoes can result in destruction and even death. This often results in a great deal of anticipatory anxiety surrounding bad weather. In addition, seeing their parents feeling anxious and nervous about bad weather can evoke additional fear in children.
There are things parents can do to help their children cope with storms.
- Have a storm plan: Parents can have a storm plan in place before the bad weather occurs. A plan should include identifying a specific safe place in the house to go to during storms. This place should have emergency supplies such as water, blankets and flashlights available. Parents can also identify a more comfortable, fun place in the home where children can go during nonemergent storms. This place might be away from windows and the sights and sounds of the storm. Having some relaxing time with a parent or a sibling in this space (e.g., reading a book together) can help ease children’s anxiety.
- Create a "storm kit": Parents might consider helping their children create a “storm kit” that the children will only use during storms. Such a kit might include fun activities like puzzles, markers, fidgets and battery powered games. These types of activities can help distract children from their anxiety. A fun flashlight or lantern with batteries can also help ease anxiety in case the power goes out.
- Be honest with kids and reassure them of their safety: It is best to be honest with children about the weather. While talking about what is happening with the weather (e.g., a tornado has been spotted nearby), parents should also reassure their children that they are doing everything they can to keep them safe and that they will get through the storm together.
- Educate about storms: Some children may benefit from education about storms and tornadoes. Books and websites that discuss storms may be a good place for children to get information, as understanding what causes storms can ease some children’s anxiety about when a storm may happen. Education about storms should focus on the storms themselves and not the destruction they cause. Watching a news report in the spring may lead some children to believe that all tornadoes result in terrible death and destruction and this is just not the case.
- Remain calm: Because children clearly take cues from their parents, they are more likely to feel at ease during a storm if their parents remain calm during a storm. If parents struggle with high anxiety during inclement weather, they may benefit from taking some actions to help themselves feel safer (e.g., going to a safe place in the house) or engaging in activities to distract themselves (e.g., playing a game with a child, reading a book).
A fear of storms can typically be managed by parents at home. However, if children are fixated on the weather, such as constantly monitoring weather apps or frequently checking the forecast, parents may need to restrict access to that information. For those children whose fears are not calmed by their parents at home, parents can speak with their children’s primary care physician about whether a consultation with a psychologist or other mental health provider may be beneficial.