SURVIVE THE STORM: Keeping your kids mentally prepares for storms

Published: Apr. 8, 2019 at 10:36 AM CDT
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Many children get scared when they know storms are coming. Some are traumatized after experiencing severe weather.

Emarie Wiley, 9, vividly remembers the derecho storm last summer that spawned her fear of storms. A fun day at the Republic Aquatic Center, suddenly turned dangerous on July 19, 2018.

"We were at the pool with my friends one day and then out of nowhere hail started coming from the sky and a lot of wind started coming. We had to get in the bathrooms," Emarie explained.

During the chaos to take cover, she got separated from her Mom. Shari Wiley described how quickly the storm moved in.

"Before we knew it all our things were flying everywhere. Then the rain came on pretty heavy quickly after, and we were running for the pool house," she recalled.

Ever since that day, Emarie has struggled with anxiety about weather. She gets stomach aches and headaches because of it.

"Kids don't realize a tummy ache may be a sign that they're anxious or a headache is a sign they're anxious," said Dr. Anne Colvin, a child psychologist for Mercy hospital in Springfield.

She says it's important for parents to explain to kids what's happening in their body and why. The adrenaline rush is a normal, protective response. "I'm supposed to flee. I'm supposed to fight the danger. I'm supposed to do something. So there's overwhelming urge to react," said Colvin.

During a storm, she says parents need to stay calm. Remember to make eye contact with your child while talking to them. Stretching with them can relax the body and mind. Breathing exercises can also help.

"A good deep full breath. If only the top part of my chest is moving, then I'm taking a shallow breath. Shallow breaths are associated with that fight or flight response. I want to take good, deep, slow and even breaths," Dr. Colvin explained.

Whether you take shelter in a basement or closet, putting together an activity basket for kids can be helpful. You can include a sketch pad, dry erase board, coloring books, little flash lights, games, slime or Playdoh and even some stress balls. Dr. Colvin says playing with things like that can help reduce anxiety. She says drawing a figure eight over and over can help soothe young children.

Emarie helped her family put items in their emergency bin. Her Mom says doing that made Emarie feel safe.

"One thing that I think helps is just knowing that she is prepared. So we let her help put together the emergency kit and everything we need in the storm shelter. So she can see for herself that we have flashlights. We have batteries. We have water," Shari said.

Something we can't see, also made a difference. The power of prayer kept Emarie calm in the middle of a fierce wind storm.

"I was praying that the weather would get nicer and I was also saying, "I trust in the Lord. And it helps." She's learning how to handle her anxiety in other stressful situations too.

Dr. Colvin says if a child is still having trouble a month after a storm, you should take them to a child psychologist who specializes in trauma. Symptoms can include stomach pain, headaches, constipation and nightmares.

She also says parents don't need to warn children ahead of severe weather. It can create worry. Instead, teach them ways to cope with anxiety in any situation. That way they learn how to cope and calm down on their own.