June 16, 2013

Thunderstorms: How to stay calm during the storm

Now that the warmer weather is finally here, chances are there will be a few thunderstorms rolling our way. While some kids may enjoy the spectacle of the storms, for others it can be a very frightening experience.

Thunderstorms tap into nearly all of our sensory systems — sight, smell, sound, even touch. From the bright flash of lightning, loud clap of thunder, pounding rain, and gusts of wind, to the flashing lights and blaring sirens — it can be overwhelming for kids. What's more, seeing your parents anxious and nervous about bad weather can evoke fear in many kids even more than fear of the storm itself, so it's important to remain calm to help your child feel safe and protected.

With a little advance planning, there are ways to help kids manage their fear of storms.

Create a thunderstorm plan

Think about how to deal with your child's fears before the bad weather occurs.

  • Have a safety plan for real weather emergencies that everyone is familiar with. This may include identifying a specific safe place in the house to go to during storms, and having emergency supplies such as water, blankets, and flashlights there as well.

  •  Identify a comfortable and fun place in the house to go to during non-emergent storms that is relaxing and positive; finding a place away from windows, and the sights and sounds of the storm is often helpful. If it's not a bedroom, consider bringing pillows, blankets and other items to make the space feel cozy. Quiet and relaxed time together with parents can help ease fears.

  • Help your child make a "storm fun kit" that you bring out only during storms. Include activities like markers, puzzles, battery-operated electronic games, and packaged snacks. Make sure to include flashlights for everyone in the box in case the power goes out; darkness can make everything seem scarier. Kids love to play with flashlights, and often, they will feel safer having one at hand.

  • Consider making a "storm game" like getting "point" for each time there is thunder.

Some kids may also benefit from exposure to the weather. For example, start gradually by walking outside in a gentle rain. Playing in puddles can be fun and helps kids begin to associate a positive emotion with the experience of rain.

What you can do before storms hit

Helping kids understand what storms are about can help them feel less scared and more in control when bad weather occurs. Older kids who are uncomfortable when storms hit may appreciate science books about what actually happens during a storm.

For younger kids, using developmentally appropriate books that explain storms and what to do to feel less afraid can help kids feel more in control because they'll feel more prepared and have a better understanding of what is really going on.

Remember too that storm warnings and even the weather broadcasts can heighten the sense of anxiety. Anticipating and hearing about bad weather that might happen can often kick in more worry than the actual storm. If possible, limit kids' exposure to the news broadcasts or weather radios if a storm is pending.

When all else doesn't work

A fear of storms can usually be managed by parents at home, but if your child seems fixated on the weather, such as checking forecasts frequently, or obsessively monitoring weather apps, you may need to restrict access to that information.

And for those children whose fears are not ultimately calmed by "home remedies" talk with your child's primary care physician as to whether a consultation with a child-anxiety specialist may be beneficial for your child.