• Minnesota

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

ROCHESTER, Minn. — Violent storms — often accompanied by lightning, thunder, heavy rain, powerful winds and even tornado warnings — can be stressful for anyone, but severe weather can trigger much more severe anxiety, especially among children. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health problem in kids and adults. Mayo Clinic Children's Center anxiety prevention expert and psychologist Stephen Whiteside, Ph.D., offers tips to help conquer weather-related fears.

MULTIMEDIA ALERT: For audio and video of Dr. Whiteside talking about storm phobias, visit the Mayo Clinic News Network.

Worries about weather can make it hard for kids to concentrate in school, Dr. Whiteside says. Some children will routinely check forecasts or develop fears of leaving the house. Dr. Whiteside says it's important that parents do not tell anxious children they are being silly or otherwise dismiss their fears.

Dr. Whiteside suggests using these tips when talking to kids about weather-related anxiety:

  • Be calm and supportive. Tell children things like thunder won't hurt them. Explain that storms are a normal part of nature.
  • 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.

"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."

To interview Dr. Whiteside about storm related phobias, contact Nick Hanson at 507-284-5005 or newsbureau@mayo.edu.