After Kelly’s great blog about mental health and tropical cyclones, I thought it would be great to piggy back off this idea and discuss how to deal with anxiety and worries which kids may have about hazardous weather. Extreme, or even just abnormal, weather can be a cause of anxiety in kids of all ages. Children are often fearful of the unknown, and having questions about weather phenomena, particularly those which seem scary due to seeing footage on television or hearing parents talk, can be particularly unnerving. As Kelly discussed in our ‘Ask Me Anything: Weather Edition‘ event which we held a few months ago, we firmly believe that talking to children at an age-appropriate level about weather and teaching them how to prepare and be safe during hazardous weather can go a long way toward helping reassure children and ease some of that ‘fear of the unknown’. Let’s dig a little deeper and talk about some ways that parents, teachers, and other authority figures can help empower children to be less fearful and more prepared.
Learn about Weather
Especially with very young children, big words and unknown subjects can cause fears to be blown out of proportion. It is always important to discuss many topics at an age-appropriate level, and the same is true for weather. With preschoolers and early-elementary age kids, reading lots of books that explain different weather phenomena can be enough to alleviate fears. If a particularly loud thunder clap caused fear in your child, reading a book about thunderstorms and how they work can sometimes help. Be sure to review any book you choose before reading it with your child, to make sure that the images and text explain things in a non-scary, clear manner. While some children may get really excited to see a picture of a tornado, others may find that image to cause more anxiety. Books are great resources to help parents explain science if they don’t necessarily understand it themselves. I know I’ve read many books over the years with my kids and learned a lot of history, science, and so much else! Middle-school age kids may enjoy the graphic novel format of this book, which explains all kinds of weather phenomena in a story format (bonus: I helped the authors fact-check the meteorology in this book!). For older elementary and middle school kids, there are so many kits which give hands-on experience and teach about the science of weather and weather forecasting. A sample for elementary-age kids can be found here.
The National Weather Service has some great resources for kids of all ages. The Young Meteorologist Program is a great online learning resources that takes kids through videos and activities about all types of weather hazards, and includes discussions about weather safety as well. NOAA’s SciJinks website has fun online games and trivia which teach kids about the weather, as well. If your child prefers reading online, the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) has a great website with lots of online learning resources for kids, as well as some online games and a ‘fun fact of the month’. The Kidsville News publication is a great resource to which the NWS regularly contributes articles about weather.
Have a Weather Emergency Plan
Whether Kelly and I are talking to adults or children, we always stress the importance of having a plan in place, and practicing that plan, before hazardous weather strikes. Depending on your location, the specific weather threats for which you may need to plan will vary.
Most areas of the U.S. should have a plan in place for severe weather/thunderstorms (including what to do if you are indoors or outdoors), and flooding. If you live in a place which may be vulnerable to winter weather, it is advisable to consider those hazards as well. In all areas of the country, children can be vulnerable to the effects of extreme heat in cars, even on not-very-hot days. While you may not address this threat directly with your child, any parent or caregiver of (especially very young) children should regularly review safety practices which can prevent these terrible tragedies.
This quick fact-sheet for kids is a great place to start and can give adults a way to discuss best practices for weather safety with kids. If a child has a question about ‘what to do if… (insert weather phenomena here)’, this quick-reference resource can be a way to easily answer the question even if you aren’t sure yourself. The Ready.gov website has fantastic resources which can help you make a weather emergency plan for your family. Some important questions to consider are:
- Do I and other responsible adults have a reliable way to receive weather warnings? We always recommend having two, so you have a backup. A NOAA Weather Radio is a great start if you are at home, and there are numerous weather apps (such as Weatherbug, for one) which allow you to receive location-specific weather warnings on your phone.
- Do all residents in my household know where the shelter locations are in the event of severe weather? Is there a plan in place to ensure babies, young children, and other vulnerable residents can be safely brought to those locations? Generally speaking for high winds, an interior, windowless room is the best place to shelter.
- Should it become necessary to leave, is there an emergency evacuation route planned? Do I know what documents and belongings will be essential to grab, and are they readily accessible should time be of the essence? Do all residents of my home know where the ‘meetup’ place is?
- Do I have a communication plan? Particularly in a larger household, it may be helpful to have a ‘chain of command’, in which one responsible adult puts the emergency plan into action, and other family members may have various responsibilities which are assigned in advance. In the event when not every family member is at home during an emergency, it can be helpful to have a ‘point person’ designated as the check-in person so that unnecessary phone calls are eliminated and it is easy to quickly determine that everyone has been accounted for and is safe.
- Do I have an emergency preparedness kit? Check here for suggestions on what to include.
Talk about Current Events at an Age-Appropriate Level
Let’s say there’s a major weather event that is making news headlines. Generally speaking, this can happen when there are large public impacts and may involve extensive property damage, injuries, and fatalities. If a child overhears you talking about this inadvertently, sees something on a computer screen, or hears other children talking, they may become fearful. As always, age and personality of the individual child will mean that discretion should be used when discussing this topic, but in all cases if a child has questions they should be answered as clearly and factually as possible. This may mean that you, as the adult, need to read some of the news yourself to find out what is happening. You may be able to reassure your child that the event did not happen nearby, and that those who were hurt are being cared for by good doctors and nurses. Sometimes the source of fear that children exhibit is not always the most obvious reason. For example, a child may see a home destroyed from a tornado, but really be worried that the small stuffed animal in the edge of the picture wasn’t returned to its owner. Reassuring children that you have a plan in place to help them stay safe should hazardous weather occur is one of the best ways to empower them and help them overcome those fears. There are some great online resources if you need more suggestions for talking to your children about severe weather (found here, here and here).
The bottom line is that, for all ages and stages, age-appropriate information and having knowledge of what to do in an emergency can be exactly what a child needs to help them understand that, while weather-related emergencies do occur, there are ways that they and you can stay safe.