The Joan Zone: Relieving fears during a storm

When my mother was a child, lightning struck a tree causing it to fall and trap her beneath it. That ignited her lifelong fear of storms.

She cultivated her fear and it spilled into me even as she tried to reassure me. Her words didn’t line up with what I sensed from her.

It was a lot more stressful in the 1970s and 80s, when storm tracking consisted of looking out your front door.

There was virtually no advanced warning and conflicting advice of what to do. Get in the bathtub. Stand in a door frame. And my personal favorite, if you open all the windows, the tornado will pass right through.

Today, storm warnings are timed to the minute. Storm sirens shriek of approaching danger and meteorologists use multiple dimensional radars to explain what we should expect and why. Yet, all that technology advancement can’t ease the fears of high-anxiety kids. That perplexing task is left to the parents. Below are some tips to help you and your child ride the wave of storm anxiety.      

— Don’t burden your child with your fears. He may be special needs, but he senses your fear, and it doubles his.

— Track the storm on your phone, not TV, so your child doesn’t become scared with each weather update.

— Designate a special storm safe place without windows. If there are windows, consider hanging black curtains to reduce visual perception.   

— Stock the safe place with water, snacks, games, books, a security blanket, special toys and anything else that will distract him from the storm.  Going to the safe place to play rather than hide reduces anxiety.

— Use social stories or books to acknowledge his fears. But do not dwell on them. Overcoddling, can have the opposite reaction you seek.

— Word your comfort in his knowledge and have him verbalize it. Say things like, “What does Mommy and Daddy always tell you?” He responds, “You’ll always take care of me.” Or, “What happened during the last storm?” This answer may range from we were safe to relating something the family did. Which is what you want. A stressed child verbalizing what he knows to be good in the face of his fear is a powerful tool and a lifelong coping skill.

— Add a storm protection layer by making a blanket fort. Get in the fort, shut off the lights and play with flashlights. That keeps the child from melting down if the power goes out. You can purchase small battery-operated personal fans to keep cool.

The key to overcoming “stormphobia” is repetition, calmness and distraction.

However you decide to weather the storm do it the same way for every storm big or small.

Don’t muddy the anxiety waters with your fear. Be his calming force. Distract him with toys, treats and activities only gained during storms.

With deliberate planning, the blaring storm siren and the call to shelter in place can take on a new positive meaning.

Joan Graves is a mother to five boys and an advocate and activist for children with special needs and their families. For more, go to www.thejoanzone.com.