Safety isn't scary. Try telling that to a child who's terrified of storms and it probably won't sink in right away.
As we move into "tornado season," I am often asked that million dollar question: "My child is scared of storms. What do I do?"
You might be surprised that I think it's easier to solve this problem by using careful messaging with babies and toddlers. Start by using positive reinforcement.
When there's thunder in the distance and a storm on the way, it's time for families to turn on the "positive." Reacting to a close crack of thunder with a "Whoa!" isn't as good as "That was a good one!" Using positive phrases like "storms are cool" and "the birds are going to love this rain" set in motion a pattern of thoughts that tell a child that there are more good outcomes than bad.
Sometimes, we adults try to reason with children instead of acting differently to set the example.
As a kid, I was deathly afraid of storms. To this day "The Wizard of Oz" is my favorite movie but I was terrified by the 'Wicked Witch of the West' as a child. Because of that, I especially love this way of understanding watches and warnings.
Reacting negatively to severe weather and tornado warnings is the worst part for a child dealing with a storm-phobia. This is the time that their fear becomes real-life. When mom and dad bring the dogs, cats, and family into a quick shelter in a basement or storm cellar, it's traumatic.
My advice for families is before the warning is issued: allow the kids to have something fun to do in the basement or safe-room. Building a "blanket fort" a great thing. This way, they can bring their favorite pillows and stuffed animals. Having their favorite snack foods available for a tornado warning can offer a sense of well-being. Playing with pets helps too. And don't forget to use those positive reinforcements.
New tornado research means we should also be encouraging children to have their bicycle helmets nearby or on during tornado emergencies. Having tornado drills can make real-life storm situations easier to deal with.
If parents follow these guidelines and do not see any positive results, please talk to their doctor. There may be other exercises and medication that can help calm those nerves.
If you have questions or advice you want to pass along to others, let me know by clicking here.
-Meteorologist Eric Sorensen