How to Calm Childrens Fears

Updated on June 02, 2008
J.B. asks from Hiawatha, IA
16 answers

We live close to where the f5 tornados hit iowa on may 25. My six year old daughter has been teriffied since then. She sees the pictures on the news and the newspapers. I have turned off the t.v. Since then so she doesn't see it any more. But how can you calm little ones fears? They learned about tornados in school but nothing can prepare you for the real thing. Any suggestions? I thought about going to help clean up but i don't want to add any more fears.

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C.D.

answers from Waterloo on

Hi J.. I am right there with you. I unfortunately live in the community where the tornado hit. It is utter devastation stsarting about 2 blocks from our house. Luckily we only had a few trees down. My kids are scared out of their minds. I have a 8, 2, and 6 month old. I actually got a call from the school today asking me to pick up my 8 y/o cuz he was freaking out and it is only a thunderstorm. So I will be looking at your question for idea myself. I have convinced my 8 y/o though that we are rather fortunate, and we are collection toys, and clothes, canned food, etc. to donate. To atleast help us feel that we are doing something to help.

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G.J.

answers from Minneapolis on

Hi J.,
Parkersburg is my husbands hometown, it was basically reduced to rubble; we wanted to go down to help too, however, it is just going to be bulldozed in the next day or so- there wasn't much to save.
My husband and his father did run a generator down for some old friends... she was just excited to be able to have a cup of coffee and curl her hair!!! :) kinda funny considering what they've lost.
My 8 yr. old was in Cedar Rapids with his grandparents visiting other relatives during that storm and on the way home they stopped in what is left of Parkersburg to check on old friends. He was really in awe of what he saw; he however, has always been interested in weather and when he was little we would really make a thunder storm a big deal, like, "wow, did you see that one?! Cool!
referring to the lightening. all 3 of my boys love a good thunderstorm. I don't think anyone can prepare for a disaster like what happened to Parkersburg. But, we did talk to him about it as well and he seems okay with what he saw, knowing that he talked with some of those people and that they are okay.
I guess I would just explain that that kind of destruction does not happen with every storm or every tornado. Maybe get some books at the library about tornados, there is a science experiment using a plastic liter bottle of pop (ck the internet) maybe this can be turned into a teaching moment. Maybe the more she knows about tornados the less scared she may be- she might even become facinated by them. Maybe a future meteorologist.
But also be sensitive about what happened and honestly my husband was there with his father and everyone is in amazingliy good spirits considering what has happened to all of them. have her include the people of that town in her prayers that type of thing.
It is hard to explain something like this to our little ones because it is hard for us to grasp too.
God Bless.

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T.O.

answers from Milwaukee on

As a elementary teacher who has to practice tornado drills with children, their biggest questions aren't why the tornado happens in the first place, but rather the "what if's". Children naturally turn to their parents/adults to count on things to be ok. The more confident and in control you appear about a situation, usually the more assured they feel. You can help her feel more in control of the possibility of a tornado happening by practicing for one. Store toys and snacks, a weather radio, blankets/pillow, and water in the basement. Then practice what your family would do if they knew of a tornado watch/warning (it helps them to know that forecasters let us know of bad weather approaching so that we have time to be safe-they don't need details, just reassurance). Also review with her how they would seek shelter at school. This way she will know that even if she was not with you, others will be watching out for her, too. Our school had to seek shelter quickly once and all I had to tell my kindergarteners was "Let's remember our plan and work together to be safe-I'm here to help you." I also agree with the others who felt helping those in need can be calming. Children are sympathetic and sometimes when they can help others in need, they feel like they have some control over what happened. In some ways, this may be how you prepare for the real thing. Knowing you can't prevent bad weather, but that others would be there to help you out if it did occur. I hope this helps.

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K.B.

answers from Minneapolis on

We went through this too...the thing that helped the most was having the kids help us create and "stock" a "safe spot" in our house. Explain (briefly) that if a storm or tornado comes close, your chosen spot is the safest place to be. We used the space under the stairwell (one of the recommended places) and together we created our "safety box". A plastic storage tote works well. Things to include are a radio, bottled water, blankets, flashlight, batteries, non-perishable food (granola/candy bars, dried fruit, etc.), first aid kit, copies of important documents (insurance info, birth/marriage certificates, financial info, etc.), some cash and especially for the kids a backup lovey and some fun activities (colors and paper, simple games, small toys, etc.). Another thing to include is a photo album. Make copies of your favorite or most precious photos and put them together in an album in the box. It is fun to look through, and you also have some of your photos if something happens to your home. Every once in a while, "practice" using your safe spot - you can even make it into a fun adventure and have a little picnic party or something - or let the kids play there occasionally (make sure the kit stays intact) so the space is familiar and not scary.

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D.E.

answers from Cedar Rapids on

Hi J.. I also live within an hour of where the tornados hit, and have a 7 year old daughter with a lot of questions. I found that it helped a little bit for our family to create a "plan" for dangerous weather. I explained that if there is a threat of tornados, an alarm will sound and we go down to the basement where we have an emergency radio and listen to see what is happening outside. We also mentioned that if we ever got separated, that she should tell her name and our names to an adult, and have them call her grandma (in case our cell phones were not with us). She is worried, but I think it helps her that we have a plan to find each other, since that seemed to really be her main concern. I can imagine at that age how scary all of this can be. I hope she begins to feel better soon.

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L.E.

answers from Minneapolis on

Meet with other parents with children of the same age... hearing others talk about the storm may help. If she see and hears from the others about what they felt then it may reassure her that others are in the same boat.

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D.G.

answers from Grand Rapids on

My oldest boy has a fear of storms too, (he's now 15). When he was younger he would start screaming and crying because he just knew a tornado was coming. I really have no idea where his fear came from, but it was real. I would just explain to him that it was just a rainstorm and he was perfectly fine, if that didn't help I let him go down in the basement to wait it out. The basement was our safe haven and it worked to calm him down.
Good luck with you daughter.

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R.

answers from Minneapolis on

We live a couple towns over from Hugo and I am still having a hard time fathoming the damage. My heart goes out to all of you who were hit by the tornadoes.
Knowledge is power and most times fear comes from the unknown. I agree w/ the post about getting some books and doing the 2 liter bottle "mini tornado". When kids understand how things happen it helps--the why is the harder question. ;-) At any rate, it may help to take the "scary" out of storms and tornadoes if they learn more about them.

I saw a tornado start outside my school window when I was in 8th grade and it was pretty freaky. We hadn't done any tornado drills up to that point, but after we had them all the time. When kids know measures are in place to keep them safe it helps as well.

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A.R.

answers from Minneapolis on

Fears are good J. - they inform us about the real world and help us to find compassion for others who have been hurt. Cleaning up may be just the thing to empower your daughter to see that out of hardship comes community and other good things. People will always be there to help - even SHE can always be there to help others.

If she is losing sleep or having serious stress about tornados and it's affecting her generally (she complains of not being able to sleep, cries a lot, or develops separation anxiety), I recommend a Bach Flower Remedy called ASPEN. Aspen is great for night terrors and fears of all kinds. Four drops in a glass of water daily until the symptoms go away (which oftentimes happens on the first day).

You can purchase Back Flower Remedies at all natural food stores or online.

Otherwise, let your daughter know that tornados ARE scary but that good things come out of all of life's experiences. "Shall we go help those who need us?" She'll probably want to at least see how much she can do to make others feel better.

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K.S.

answers from Minneapolis on

I think we need to respect fear (it is healthy to be afraid of something that truly is dangerous) but to teach kids how to use their fear constructively. Buy a NOAA weather radio and teach her about it and how it will help notify you if a tornado warning comes during the night. Talk openly about what to do if she hears sirens and is outside or in the house.

And this is going to sound strange, but watching YouTube videos of tornadoes actually helped my son through his fear last year. My husband showed them to him when I wasn't home (I would have thought it would have had the opposite effect but it didn't). It also helps him to watch weather radar whenever a storm is in the area. Then he can "see" where things are relative to us. He is still afraid, but he doesn't lose sleep anymore and he doesn't spend every thunderstorm hiding under a desk in the basement.

L.G.

answers from La Crosse on

Hi J., I was actually in 3 tornadoes as a child. The first one I was about your daughter's age, and I was in a car with my older sister. The second one I was in a cellar at age 11, and the third one I was at Valleyfair laying in a ditch on the other side of the old wooden roller coaster (age 17). Needless to say, I had a lot of fears. I won't say I've overcome them completely, it took a long time, but I can share a couple things that helped me.

First, if you are a spiritual person, prayer helps tremendously, especially when people would pray for me in person. My own prayer life helps as well.

Second, she needs to know that Mom understands and respects the storms. That means you need to keep a close eye on the weather, and when severe weather is approaching, take all necessary precautions. Help her learn about the weather and how storms develop, learn about the different cloud formations, etc. I had a dad who was a weatherman, so I was lucky there, but you can get books from the library. Our local TV station does a great weather presentations at elementary schools, where the kids get to meet the weatherman. You might check into that. Education is power.

Third, I agree with others who said to go help clean up. Nothing is better to take the focus off yourself.

You're welcome to email me if you want to talk more. [email protected]____.com

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A.B.

answers from Minneapolis on

I think all of the ideas about creating a safe space and practicing are excellent - my younger sister went through a phase at about the same age and having her help set up the basement safe space helped. My parents also bought her a large map of Minnesota (where we lived) that had all the counties brightly colored and outlined. Then when a severe weather warning would come up on the TV for someplace that was way up north or down south, we could show her where the counties that were in the warnings were in relation to us. And if they were remotely close (in her mind, anything 2 counties away were "close")...we all trooped down to the basement with her and hung out until the danger had passed. And after a couple of years, having gone downstairs all those times, she quit being so afraid of the warnings on TV/Radio and has loosened up about it.

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E.B.

answers from Duluth on

Oh I can relate--I was so afraid as a kid, and still am as an adult--we think because there was a small tornado in our neighborhood and my mom was upstairs getting my baby sister at the time. Anyway--it wasn't until college, and maybe your daughter can't cope the way a college girl could, but cleaning up for some reason did help my fears. It's also always helped to be outside in a storm--obviously not to the point of danger and stupidity, but more to see that the nature I fear is the same nature I love, maybe? It also helped me to bring my precious belongings into the basement when we went--and to know I wouldn't be ridiculed for wanting to have what was important to me nearby in the event it struck. I think that's what freaked me out--the total devastation, everything gone. Like I said, much of this is me remembering from when I was a little older than 6, but hopefully some of it helps a little.

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S.R.

answers from Duluth on

J.,
That is a hard one! we had a tornado go through our home town a couple of years ago and afterwards my daughter was terrified. I explained to her that sometimes scary things happen that we can't help or do anything about, but we can help those people now. I took her to volunteer picking up, we went and bought supplies, and donated change from our piggy banks for the families. It didn't take all the fear away, but it sure helped get her mind off the bad stuff and made her feel good about helping. I found that volunteer did help us... Good luck!

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D.N.

answers from Minneapolis on

Hi J., tornados are scarey. We live in MN where there were tornados 10 years ago. Our home was not directly hit, but we had lots of damage. My boys were 14,10, 8(twins) and a baby girl. They still don't like the tornado siren drills. they deal with it, but it took a long time. lots of talking and just letting them know how to prepare and try to be safe. I don't like the siren either. When the bad weather came our way again, we would look at the radar and talk about it and talk some more. Take the fears seriously and reassure her that everything is being done to keep her safe. good luck and may the bad storms be few and far between.

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E.I.

answers from Duluth on

i dont know how you feel about God or religion, but i feel that if you are a believer, the best thing you can say is that God has it under control, and He will always be here to protect us.

if not, i guess i would tell her that you made it through safe and sound, and even if it is scary, you (and dad?) will always take care of her.

its really hard, dealing with those kinds of things. i cant imagine cuz ive never been involved with that kind of event, living way up north of you. so i hope that you guys stay safe!

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