Talking with Children About Scary Weather

Spring in Missouri, a time for crocuses, chickadees, wild flowers, frog songs… and terrible, loud, scary storms. For many children, the sights and sounds of a storm—or even the idea of a storm—can cause a lot of anxiety. Their imaginations are powerful and they might not be able to make the distinction between what could and what is actually happening. And if they’ve heard of or seen footage of a recent weather disaster, of which there are many in here in Missouri, their anxiety might be heightened.

Here at Villa di Maria, we practice our severe weather protocols with the children a few times during the school year, in sync with the city’s severe weather/tornado sirens. While they are necessary to ensure our safety, these drills can be tough for children who are especially prone to weather anxiety. So, what can we (and you) do to help ease the anxiety?

Rebrand it.

This is a small, but very effective, change: rebrand “tornado siren/drill,” as “severe weather siren/drill.” For many children (and adults), tornadoes are particularly frightening and conjure up very specific scary images from books, television and movies. Not all storms are tornadoes, so there’s just no need to trigger that fear with every siren or drill.

Answer all of their questions. All of them.

If you know a child, any child, you know that children learn and process information through questioning. When it comes to easing the anxiety behind the questions, the very best thing we can do is answer them truthfully and with clarity. In the classroom, class discussions about weather events can be very helpful for children, not only because they have the opportunity to ask their questions but also because they can see that their worries are shared by some of their peers. At home, talk as a family about scary weather and, because children always have more questions than we grown-ups can readily answer, have some books or websites handy for reference.

Turn off the media coverage…

… or at least, keep your children away from it. As adults we might be able to reason through the shock factor that the media can bring, but children really cannot. Hard reasoning, without the influence of imagination, is just not something that has developed in children’s minds. Media coverage of a potential or ongoing storm is likely to exacerbate their fears.

Prepare and practice (and do it on a nice day).

Nobody wants to give up a sunny weekend to think about storms, but carving out some time on a relaxing storm-free day, at a time when your child is not actively anxious, to talk to her about her weather anxiety can do wonders. Have her help you design your family’s severe-weather plan. Ask for her input about what to include in an emergency kit—Flashlight, check! Blankets, check! A copy of her favorite book, check!

Then, practice! Stay calm and focused just as you would during a real storm. Make sure to acknowledge what you’re doing and answer her questions all along the way. And, while it might be tempting to call it off or turn it into a game if your child is getting upset, stick with the plan. Show her that there is a comforting end to the process. In the end, she’ll have a greater sense of security because she was involved in the planning and she was able to get through something very scary.

Find the positives.

Last, but not least, help your child remember the positives of severe weather. It’s important not to minimize your child’s fears or pretend that storms aren’t potentially destructive. But remembering that there are also some good things does help. Thunder and lightening are actually pretty cool—talk to your child about what’s happening in the sky. And there will most certainly be puddles (puddles!) after a storm.