Changing seasons bring changing weather, and in Texas, severe storms can strike year-round. For children (and adults!) who are afraid of storms, the unpredictability of severe weather can be especially unsettling.
It's normal for kids to be afraid of storms and severe weather, says Hillary Carrington, Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor and Registered Play Therapist Supervisor at Children's Health℠. But if your child's fears or anxiety about storms start to disrupt their daily routines, you'll want to take proactive steps to address their concerns.
How can I tell if my child has storm anxiety?
While kids of all ages may experience storm anxiety, their fear may present different depending on their age, among other factors.
If your child has frequent nightmares about storms or complains of stress-related ailments, including headaches or stomach aches when storms are in the forecast, these could be signs of weather-related anxiety.
How can I help my child overcome fears about storms?
If you sense your child is developing storm anxiety, you may be tempted to avoid discussing bad weather altogether. But avoiding the topic is not the best approach. Carrington offers these tips to help your child address their fears and concerns about severe weather.
1. Talk with your child about their fears.
Start by listening and follow your child's lead. If they express fear, then tell your child that you understand storms can be scary, but you are there to help keep them safe.
"Balance validation of your child's fears and emotions with your confident and capable leadership," Carrington encourages. "You can say, 'I see you are having a hard time or feeling scared. It makes sense since storms can be scary.' Pause and wait before saying, 'Remember I'm here to keep you safe. Remind me of our safe plan.'"
Taking the time simply to listen and be there with your child can go a long way in helping them feel comforted.
Balance validation of your child’s fears and emotions with your confident and capable leadership.
2. Give your child the opportunity to ask questions.
Helping kids have a better understanding of storms can help children sort through and manage their concerns – and put to rest any unfounded sources of anxiety. Allow your child all the time and space they need to ask questions they have about storms, including, for example, who will keep them safe if a storm hits while they are at school or away from home, or how meteorologists learn to track and predict a storm's path.
3. Be honest about the potential for storm danger.
Don't say "nothing bad will happen" – particularly when you can't guarantee that. Instead, let children know that if an emergency storm situation arises, there are people who can help – such as adults, neighbors or emergency responders.
"If you can't predict the future, don't – as tempting as it can be for a quick fix to soothe a worried child," Carrington says. "Instead, you can say, 'I cannot promise nothing will happen, but I can promise if we need help, there are people who can help, including me and your dad (or insert primary caregiver).'"
4. Model calm behavior.
Children pick up on their parents' cues, so if even mild storms stress you, they may learn to respond similarly. Try to model a calm, even approach to severe weather and healthy ways to cope with anxiety. This might mean monitoring your thoughts and asking, "In this moment, is this thought helpful?" You can note the thought and return to it once your emotion has decreased. If you're feeling nervous, you can also pause to take some deep calming breaths. Being prepared with ways to cope and a plan ahead of time can increase your sense of control.
5. Create a family storm plan.
A well-thought-out storm safety plan helps reduce anxiety before, during and after a storm. Work as a family to create a storm plan so everyone knows where to go in the home in case of severe weather – typically into a lowest level or basement, away from doors and windows.
Create an emergency preparedness kit and enlist the help of your kids. Ask them to help gather the essentials, including flashlights, an FM or weather radio, batteries, candles and matches. Your storm kit could also include basic first-aid supplies, food, water, pet supplies and other essentials, as suggested by Ready.gov.
If you have pets, it can be comforting for kids to know that they're included in your safety plan as well. You can also plan to have one or two of your kids' favorite toys in your storm preparedness kit to fill the time until the storm passes.
6. Distract them through relaxing activities.
As a family, select fun, relaxing activities to play together during thunderstorms – perhaps a game of cards or a Play-Doh session – to distract everyone from the wind, lightning and thunder that may be going on outside. Avoid focusing on constant media coverage of the weather or any weather-related disaster.
When should I seek professional help for my child's storm anxiety?
Many times, a fear of storms will resolve or lessen as your child grows. However, look for any signs that anxiety is disrupting your child's routine or well-being, such as:
- Changes in sleep habits
- Bedwetting or toilet accidents
- Irritability and difficulty concentrating
- Unexplained physical complaints such as headaches and stomach aches
- Refusal to leave home or to separate for any length of time from you due to storm anxiety
If you increasingly notice these signs, a mental health professional could assist your child in coping with their fears.
Also, be on the watch for reoccurring themes of danger, disaster or death that could pop up in your child's pretend play or in their artwork. These could also be signs that your child harbors anxiety or fear and could benefit from working with a professional counselor or therapist.
Learn more about helping your child cope with common childhood fears. If you have questions, our team of counselors and psychologists at Children's Health is here to help foster your child's emotional health and well-being with expert support.