Schools across the country are back in session, and with the first weeks of class come first fire and severe weather drills. (Some scheduled, some not…during my kids’ first week of school a little kindergartener accidentally initiated a school-wide evacuation and all students received a quick but important lesson about when and when not to touch the fire alarm.)
While these drills are vital to the safety of our children and their teachers, they occasionally trigger fears children might not have otherwise experienced.
On Monday morning, one of my daughter’s best friends, Kate – an energetic, independent five-and-a-half year old who had bounded enthusiastically out the door every morning since the first day of school – suddenly wanted to stay home. With tears in her eyes, Kate begged to spend the day with her mama instead of in her classroom.
After ruling out a variety of other reasons for the tears, Kate’s mom realized that Kate’s school had held a tornado drill the previous Friday. Kate, a notorious “weather worrier”, was scared about thunderstorms and tornados at school.
Kate is not alone: fear of severe weather affects many children at one time or another. If your child or a child you know suddenly seems fearful of tornadoes, hurricanes, or earthquakes, either after an actual severe weather experience or after a school drill, here are a few suggestions to help them work through their fears.
Start early. Begin talking about severe weather before it strikes, when you’re calm and your children are calm.
Listen. Allow children to share their worries – whenever and however often they need to do so – and don’t brush off their fears. Answer their questions honestly but sensitively. Consider sharing (keeping in mind the children’s ages and maturity levels) your own fears, but always remind kids that even when you’re afraid you’ll do your best to keep them safe.
Educate. Read books and use internet resources to teach kids more about severe weather. How do “watches” and “warnings” differ? What conditions contribute to the formation of tornadoes? Which kinds of weather affect certain regions of the country? Knowledge is power, and most children feel more confident and less scared with a basic understanding of severe weather under their belts.
Be prepared. Talk about and practice your emergency preparedness plan. Let your children help you build or restock your emergency preparedness kit.
The fear of severe weather is completely normal – and almost to be expected – in children. After all, the unpredictable paths and inconsistent damage of storms, tornadoes, and hurricanes threaten children’s usual assumption of safety. But with a little intervention, adults can lessen these fears and pave the way for improved preparedness across the board.
September is National Preparedness Month. Click here for information about American Red Cross preparedness apps, plans, and kits.