Storm Stress: Helping Kids Stay Calm
Weather events like severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, and hurricanes are happening more often. Between weather reports, news coverage, and the storms themselves, it can be a lot for kids to handle.
Here are some tips on how to help them feel less stressed before, during, and after a storm.
How Can I Help My Kids Before a Storm?
If storms are common in your area at certain times (like summer thunderstorms or hurricanes in the fall), talk with kids about them ahead of time. Help them understand what type of storm it is and what could happen, using terms that are right for their age.
For hurricanes: You can explain the difference between evacuating (leaving for a safe spot like a storm shelter) and sheltering in place (staying at home during the hurricane).
For tornados: Talk about how a tornado watch (the storm might come near your area) and a tornado warning (the storm is in your area) differ.
For thunderstorms: As with tornados, explain how severe thunderstorm watches and warnings differ. Talk about how thunder and lightning can look and sound scary, especially when close, but that staying inside helps keep you safe. If hail or high winds are possible, talk with kids about what those might look and sound like.
With young kids, you can compare being inside during a storm to the way squirrels, birds, and other wild animals take shelter in bad weather. Just like animals may store food for these times, your child can pick out a snack to eat — or a favorite game to play — during a severe weather event.
Tell kids what you’ll do to stay safe. Explain that when you stay inside during the storm, everyone will keep away from doors, windows, and skylights in case they break. If you have a safe room where you might spend time during severe weather, like a basement or windowless room, show it to your child.
If kids seem afraid, ask about it and encourage them to talk. It can help them to share their fears with you. Your willingness to listen sends a strong message.
How Can I Keep My Kids Calm During a Storm?
Storms like thunderstorms and hurricanes can last for a while. To help keep kids calm until things settle down:
- Try to limit how much kids see and hear about the storm. Storm stories and images — on websites and social media, TV, and the radio — can be upsetting. If you see kids watching, look together and let them ask questions. If the news is especially scary, keep tabs on it yourself and direct kids to other activities.
- Take kids’ concerns seriously. Kids’ imaginations can make fears worse. Let them know you understand their feelings. But also talk about what’s realistic and how your family is prepared to help everyone feel safe.
- Watch how you react. Kids watch their parents and will notice your mood and reactions. To set a good example, try to stay calm yourself.
- Give them a task. Find age-appropriate tasks that kids can do to prepare for a storm. This might be something like putting a flashlight in their room where they can find it easily, filling up a bathtub (explain that you can use the water for things like flushing toilets, if needed), or keeping a pet calm. Having a job to do can help kids feel in control.
- Suggest relaxing activities. If kids seem worried, have them snuggle up with you or a pet. You can also suggest they write or draw their feelings or listen to music. Be ready with flashlights in case the power goes out so kids can read, play games, do puzzles, or make crafts.
- Try breathing exercises. Teach kids how to take a few slow belly breaths: Breathe in through your nose, letting your belly puff out like a small balloon filling up with air. Breathe out through your nose, letting your belly flatten.
How Can I Reassure My Kids After a Storm?
If a storm does hit your area, talking about it with kids can be a challenge. Try these tips:
Be honest. Tell the truth about what happened, but don’t offer more details than kids are interested in. Stick to the basic facts. Explain things based on their age and maturity.
Ask questions. If kids aren’t talking about the storm, asking questions may encourage them. It may take time for them to share how they feel, so be patient and ready to listen.
Support your child’s emotions. Don’t dismiss what kids feel. If they tell you they’re upset or scared, echo what they said: “Yes, I see this makes you very upset.” This lets them know you hear and understand them. Reassure them that the storm has passed and they’re safe now.
Make it a chance to learn. If kids are old enough, help them figure out the science behind the storm so they can make sense of it. This can also help future ones seem less scary. Go online together to learn about storms or borrow weather-related books from the library. Kids can also talk with their science teacher.
How Can We Get Back to Normal After a Storm?
It can take time to move on after a storm, especially if your home or neighborhood was damaged. It can help to:
- Return to routines. Sticking to usual routines, like specific times for meals and sleep, gives kids a sense of normalcy.
- Show kids who’s helping. Point out the people in your area who are helping, like police, firefighters, power company workers, neighbors, and even strangers.
- Help others. If it’s safe to, consider finding ways you and your child can help other people in the community after the storm. This can empower kids and keep them busy.
What Else Should I Know?
If kids show changes in behavior (like not sleeping or eating, not wanting to be around people, or worrying all the time), call their doctor or a behavioral health care provider. They can help your child manage anxiety and feel better able to cope.
You also can talk with school counselors, staff, and teachers if your child has trouble learning and focusing after the storm. They can help make sure kids get the support they need at school.