Tornado season is underway in Iowa and this week’s severe weather can cause a lot of anxiety for children who aren’t so familiar with loud claps of thunder, flashes of lightning and the sound of the howling wind.
Urbandale social worker Yolanda Dixon says emotional responses to spring and summer storms vary with the age of the child while moms and dads can help their kids learn to cope.
“Parents can do a lot of educating themselves just by pointing out the signs of the weather,” Dixon says. “Books are another resource. If children are interested in the weather, there are many informational books that educate children about weather. There are also books that deal with children’s feelings about the weather if they do have fears.”
If there’s an elder brother or sister in the house, Dixon says parents can recruit that child to help be a good role model by demonstrating their knowledge and bravery.
“If older siblings are not afraid of the weather, just by going out in rainy weather or windy weather,” Dixon says. “Older siblings can also read stories to the younger children and just reinforce the belief that everything will be okay.”
Children often model behavior found in their environment, so it’s important for parents to set good examples during severe weather season by remaining calm and managing their own emotions. Once kids are in school, they’ll be put through fire drills and severe weather drills, something that’s also wise to practice at home. “Parents then can set up some kind of a safety plan that’s done ahead of time so children know if they hear a siren, this is what our family does,” Dixon says. “We go down to the basement and we take the pets and we take books or other things to do while we’re down there and we wait until it’s safe to come up.”
Being prepared can do a lot to help a child manage anxiety about a situation where they have no control, she says. Dixon says a toddler may fear loud noises like thunder, while preschoolers commonly fear thunder and lightning. Elementary-age children may have realistic fears about natural disasters while older children become more aware of larger world issues which could trigger anxiety about the weather. She says to encourage realistic thinking by reminding children that there usually is a warning that allows people to be safe.
Monitor media coverage so a child does not see a severe weather clip repeatedly. If they see the coverage, sit with them and help them understand the facts and answer questions simply, honestly and directly. She notes, sometimes a child’s imagination is more frightening than reality.