Helping kids cope with severe weather fears

10:20 AM, May 21, 2013   |    comments
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ROCHESTER, Minn. - Violent storms, often accompanied by lightning, thunder, heavy rain, powerful winds and even tornado warnings, can be stressful for anyone.

For children, they can be worse than stressful, triggering anxiety disorders that can have significant impact on their lives.   

Mayo Clinic Children's Center anxiety prevention expert and psychologist Stephen Whiteside, Ph.D, says worries about weather can make it hard for kids to concentrate both in school and at home.

Whiteside says some children will obsessively check forecasts or develop fears of leaving the house. He says it's important that parents do not tell anxious children they are being silly or otherwise dismiss their fears. 

"The important thing for parents is to remember to be warm and supportive of your child," Dr. Whiteside says. "If you get anxious or frustrated or upset, that's just going to make things worse. Try to stay calm and help your child gradually face their fears in a step-by-step fashion."

He offers these suggestion for talking to kids about weather-related anxiety:

  • Be calm and supportive. Tell children things like thunder won't hurt them. Explain that storms are a normal part of nature.
  • Talk about storms matter-of-factly. Some kids may seem afraid of storms, but are really interested in learning more about them.
  • The same type of exposure-based behavioral therapy used to defeat many worries and phobias works well with weather-related phobias. Dr. Whiteside says it boils down to helping children face their fears by gradually helping them learn they can handle a fear, and other uncertainties of life, on their own.
  • Help children face their fear of storms by reading about them, or watching videos of tornadoes, hurricanes and other big storms.
  • If the anxiety doesn't diminish, or begins to create greater stress for the child or the parent, get the assistance of a mental health professional.

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