Dr. Josh Klapow: What to say to your kids when severe weather strikes

Dr. Josh Klapow: What to say to your kids when severe weather strikes
Children can be both fearful and curious about severe weather. (Dave G. Kelly/Getty Images)

It’s severe weather season. For many regions of the country, including Alabama, severe weather is a part of daily life. But what do we tell our children?  We can remember how scary storms were, so how do we talk to them about storms, danger and being prepared?

Here is some advice:

First, it is critical to remember the developmental stage of your child. What will they truly understand and?  While every child is different, we can break down ages into three groups:

For young children (under age 8), talk about “big weather” vs. “bad weather.” So we talk about big rain, big wind, big flashes in the sky. Children at this age don’t need to understand the potential for danger and really don’t have the ability to comprehend the details. So keep it simple.

Explaining severe weather to children varies depending on age. (Rui Almeida Fotografia/Getty Images)

For older children (ages 9-13), we can begin to explain the science and logic behind weather. What are thunderstorms? What causes them? What are the differences between watches, advisories and warnings? Explain some of the logic and science behind the weather, but keep it simple in addressing some of the facts so they have something to process.

For teens and older, we can treat them intellectually like adults. Address their basic questions and encourage them to dig deeper into what they don’t understand – looking up the causes of severe weather, what are the predictors and moderating factors.

Beyond offering information, there are a host of basic strategies that parents can follow to help children of all ages. These include:

  • Remain calm. Children of all ages are emotional sponges; your demeanor in front of them will dictate their emotions. If you need to, take a few minutes to compose yourself before talking with them. This will have the greatest impact on their emotions and anxiety levels.
  • Assure your children that you will do everything you can to keep them safe. You can’t promise safety, but you can promise that you are there to help ensure they are going to be OK.
  • Answer their questions regardless of what they are. Children have a different way of processing information. They very often need to have basic questions addressed. Things like: Will their pets be ok? Will they have practice tomorrow? Will they have to leave their home? This is not time for a tutorial or lecture. Listen and answer is the best approach.
  • Help them channel their anxiety. Give them something to do. Letting them gather supplies, help the family get ready and make sure the pets are OK allows them to turn nervous energy into action.

Recognize that some children may have severe anxiety, so don’t push explanations, helping, etc. Let your child dictate how much he or she wants to know or help. Severe weather phobia is very real in some children and requires professional intervention.

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