The Weather Outside Is Frightful
How To Help Your Kids Cope With Weather Fears
April showers may bring May flowers, but for many children these spring showers and thunderstorms equate to utter fear and terror.
Denise Parrish of Waynesboro, mother of two boys, ages 7 and 5, says her oldest son, Hunter, is afraid of heavy rain, wind, thunder and lightning. “It scares me,” Hunter says. “I’m afraid our house is going to tear up or I’m going to die. I am afraid I might get struck by lightning.”
Hunter is not alone. Dr. Bernard Davidson, family psychologist at Georgia Health Sciences University, says that fear about the weather is quite common in children and is listed in the top 20 things kids are most afraid of. The medical term for this fear is astraphobia or fear of thunderstorms and lightning and is a normal expression of a child’s development that will usually resolve on its own.
Why They’re Afraid
There are several reasons children are afraid of storms. “Lack of knowledge about the weather and an exaggerated sense of danger, most likely due to the unknown, as well as consequences of thunderstorms, all contribute to the fear,” Dr. Davidson says. “Also loud sounds often produce startle responses and autonomic nervous system reactivity.” He says the child may be startled and then misinterpret this as something that is going to happen. “They are waiting for the feared thing to occur, ‘knowing’ it will,” he adds.
Claire Cooper, of Augusta and mother of two girls ages 7 and 3, says her oldest daughter, Madison, is afraid of heavy rain and thunder and lightning. “It can be a beautiful day, but if the wind picks up, she will dart in the house and ask if a storm or tornado is coming,” says Cooper.
Ways Parents Can Help
What can parents do to help alleviate these fears? Dr. Davidson suggests educating your child about the weather. “Share a book about the weather, see a TV show or go to the library or Internet and learn what causes weather changes and how likely they really are to do damage,” he says.
Dr. Davidson also offers the following suggestions for parents to help their children cope:
• Teach your children relaxation skills, such as deep breathing.
• Encourage positive self-talk.
• Help them express their fears in drawings or writing.
• Have them talk to people who have experienced severe weather and come out unscathed.
• Limit television exposure, as reporters will often sensationalize the storm.
Both Cooper and Parrish say the beeping on the television or radio during a severe weather report tends to panic their children.
When bad weather is approaching, Parrish does her best to explain to Hunter that God made the weather and God will take care of the storms. “Even though there is no guarantee, I tell him we are safe and the storm will not hurt us,” she adds.
“It can be a beautiful day, but if the wind picks up, she will dart in the house and ask if a storm or tornado is coming.”
Cooper says she used to warn Madison ahead of time if bad weather was near, but it did no good—Madison still cries and worries. Now she just tries to distract her with a board game or movie and if that doesn’t work, a close hug and reassuring words help. “It’s anxiety, and sometimes all you can do is hug them,” says Cooper.
Parrish agrees and says that Hunter says he feels better just being near her in bad weather. “So I guess just spending time with him and reminding him everything will be okay seems to be the best remedy,” Parrish says.
Education and Planning Can Help
Jay Jefferies, meteorologist at NBC 26 in Augusta, hosts free Storm Spotter seminars throughout the year along with NBC 26’s weather team that inform viewers about severe weather and teach them weather safety tips. “Practicing weather safety makes everyone more comfortable whether they are at home or away from home when severe weather occurs,” says Jefferies.
Jefferies suggests having a plan in place before the storm hits and practicing what you might do in case you need to evacuate or take cover. He says that 80 percent of residents are not fully prepared for a disaster. “You can prepare a plan in as little as an hour,” he says. “Have a family plan in place that you have gone over and practiced with all family members before severe weather strikes.” He also suggests going to www.nbc26.tv/weather to sign up for Weather Call, a free service that alerts you to severe weather where you live.
Dr. Davidson agrees with having a plan and says, “The more you practice and let them know that this is helping them and their family stay safe, the less anxious they may become. It makes good sense for people to be prepared.”
Seeking Professional Help for Your Child
Although astraphobia is attributed to a normal childhood fear, there are times when a medical professional may need to be sought. Some warning signs to look for include helplessness or lack of typical responsiveness, difficulty talking about the weather, nightmares and sleep disturbances, separation fears, regressive behavior such as bedwetting, somatic complaints such as stomachaches or nausea, preoccupations with death and danger and social withdrawal.
“Kids show fear of bad weather and this is normal,” says Dr. Davidson. “But it becomes a problem when it interferes with daily functioning and causes them to stress over time.” A fear becomes a true phobia when it has persisted for six months or more.
Most likely, your child is just experiencing a normal childhood fear of severe weather. Help them through it using knowledge and comfort and, most likely, they will outgrow it. As Jefferies points out, “Children unconditionally trust their parents, so explain to them that you will protect them always.” Remember that those scary April showers do tend to bring those beautiful May flowers.
Cammie Jones is a n Augusta Freellance writer and mother of three.