Helping Children Overcome Their Fears of Severe Weather

fear of thunder and lightning, astraphobia, children's fears, severe weather
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Hopefully, most of us won’t encounter some of the less common, more damaging weather phenomenons such as tornados or hurricanes, but one severe weather condition we all face at one time or another is the thunderstorm.

Astraphobia is the clinical name for the fear of thunder and lightning. People who suffer from an excessive fear often sweat, shake or cry during a storm or just before one begins. Additionally, people with astraphobia make seek shelter during a storm beyond the normal protection, such as hiding under a bed or in the bathroom tub.

Fearful people may also show other symptoms, such as being obsessed with weather forecasts or developing agoraphobia (fear of leaving the house) due to a possibility of storms while one is away.

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Astraphobia is extremely common in children. Fears and anxiety, in general, are a normal part of development. A true phobia is not diagnosed unless it has persisted for six months or longer. The situation could be especially problematic if a storm occurs while the child is at school, causing him to lose focus or even cry during class.

Mayo Clinic psychologist Stephen Whiteside PhD offers tips to help children conquer their weather-related fears:
• Be calm and supportive. Tell children things like thunder won’t hurt them. Explain that storms are a normal part of nature.
• Teach children to use their own soothing self talk during a storm. Visualization exercises may also be helpful to calm fears.
• Talk about storms matter-of-factly. Some kids may seem afraid of storms, but are really interested in learning more about them.
• The same type of exposure-based behavioral therapy used to defeat many worries and phobias works well with weather-related phobias. Dr. Whiteside says it boils down to helping children face their fears by gradually helping them learn they can handle a fear, and other uncertainties of life, on their own.
• Help children face their fear of storms by reading about them, or watching videos of tornadoes, hurricanes and other big storms.
• If the anxiety doesn’t diminish, or begins to create greater stress for the child or the parent, get the assistance of a mental health professional. Cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques are often used in astraphobia treatment.

“The important thing for parents is to remember to be warm and supportive of your child,”
Dr. Whiteside says. “If you get anxious or frustrated or upset, that’s just going to make things worse. Try to stay calm and help your child gradually face their fears in a step-by-step fashion.”

Reference: Mayo Clinic, Thunderphobia: Mayo Experts Offer Tips to Help Children Conquer Severe Weather Fears

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