As a kid I always got excited about thunderstorms and tornadoes. I would run outside to see them when possible. However, for many kids, severe weather is a source of significant anxiety.
Summer is severe weather season in Minnesota and if you live here you know we’ve had our share lately of intense thunderstorms, hail, high winds, and even tornadoes. Studies show that fear of personal harm associated with severe weather is quite common in kids grades 2 through 12 and it makes the top-20 list of things kids worry about (other top stresses for kids include public speaking, terrorist attacks, drowning, monsters/ghosts, and loss of a parent).
Kids can learn to manage weather related fears (and other fears). Self-care skills can help build their confidence in coping more positively around feelings of anxiety before or during extreme weather (watch Tim Culbert, MD, on WCCO working with a patient and family on these self-care skills).
Self-care skills that are calming include:
- mental imagery (PDF)
- positive self-talk (PDF)
- muscle relation (PDF)
- relaxation breathing (PDF)
- aromatherapy (smelling relaxing scented oils like lavender and orange)
Parents can also model a calm, self-controlled style when inclement weather strikes (this is a good self-care skills exercise to practice and model at home as a family unit).
If kids anxiety related to storms and tornadoes interferes substantially with day-to-day life (for example they won’t go outside – even in good weather), then they should see a pediatrician or child psychologist for further evaluation.
Here are some tips and resources I find useful in helping kids cope with anxiety around severe weather:
Having A Plan
- Have a Weather Worries Toolkit stashed in the basement or wherever you go for severe weather
- Include a board game that you can play, some scented candles, music CDs that are relaxing and some comfy blankets and pillows
Finding The Calm Within The Storm – Things to Do
- Acknowledge Your Child’s Fear. Do not criticize, ignore, or belittle these feelings. Talk about it openly and give a name/words to what it is they are most afraid about.
- Have a Plan and Rehearse It. It is best to practice skills when things are calm and controlled. Practice several times, then you will all be ready when severe weather occurs. With practice kids develop mastery and confidence. Parents should practice with younger kids and also model these techniques.
- Limit Media Exposure. Television and radio media will sometimes cover inclement weather intensely. It is best to limit children’s exposure to this.
- Get The Facts. Research the facts about severe weather and understand the reality of it and the conditions for it. Knowledge is power and will often reduce fears.
Websites about Severe Weather for Kids
- Billy, Maria and the Thunderstorm
A printable coloring book about staying safe during a thunderstorm.
- FEMA for Kids: Thunderstorms
Information and games about thunderstorms.
- KidsHealth: Being Afraid
Information about fear and anxiety.
- KidsHealth: Hurricanes
Information and tips for dealing with hurricanes.
- KidsHealth: Kids Talk About Feeling Scared
Tips from other kids about what to do when you’re afraid.
- Owlie Skywarn’s Weather Book: Watch Out…Lightning Ahead
A printable book about staying safe when lightning strikes. Also includes a quiz about lightning safety.
- Web Weather for Kids: Weather Safety
Tips for staying safe in lightning and thunderstorms.
- Children’s Integrative Medicine Program
Information on Complementary and Self-care Skills for Kids
Children’s Books about Severe Weather and/or Stress Management
- Be The Boss of Your Stress Book and Kit
Timothy Culbert and Rebecca Kajander
- The Buffalo Storm
- Franklin and The Thunderstorm
- Flash, Crash, Rumble and Roll
What strategies do you use when helping your children cope with fear or anxiety around severe weather (or other fears)?
Tim Culbert, MD
Dr. Tim Culbert is the medical director of Children’s Integrative Medicine program. Read more about him in his first post to the Kids’ Health blog.