Thunderstorms and Fears – Tools to Help Your Child

thunderstorms and fears
Christine Brown

Christine Brown

Thunderstorms and fears seemed like the perfect topic for today’s post! As I’m typing this, there are loud rumblings outside and the sky is scary dark in the middle of the day.  This morning, I had a call with a client whose child is having a difficult time at bedtime due to fears that arose from a series of thunderstorms last week.

Thunderstorms are loud and can be pretty scary, for children and adults alike.  As adults, most of us have lived through many thunderstorms.  We know that as long as we are in a safe space, they are relatively harmless.  This makes it easy for us to move beyond the temporary fear we may feel during the storm. 

Thunderstorms and Fears in Children

Our children, whose brains are still maturing, don’t have the same logical response that we have.  Thunderstorms and fears go hand in hand with young children.  Yet, having the fear of thunderstorms doesn’t have to be crippling and children can move past their fears.

If your little one is afraid of thunderstorms or they have fears that were driven by some other big, scary emotion, you can help them!

The advice I’m about to share with you will help your child to manage their fears so they can move on to a place where they feel better and are better able to handle the storms.

The Whole Brain Child

One of my favorite parenting books is The Whole Brain Child by Dr. Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D.  In the book, they outline “12 revolutionary strategies to nurture your child’s developing mind.” 

Through neuroscience and the study of child development, it has been uncovered that our children’s brains aren’t fully developed until they are 25 years old!  And if you’ve ever argued with a 3-year-old over their chicken nuggets not tasting good on the yellow plate and they want the red one, you know that young children aren’t logical, especially when they are emotional, hungry, or tired! 

*Really* Basic Brain Science

I’m not a science person so my explanation is going to be very basic, but I want to share some understanding of how our brains work so the strategy I’m going to share makes sense. 

  • The left side of our brain is all about logic and higher-level thinking
  • The right side of the brain helps us to experience emotions and read non-verbal cues
  • Our reptilian brain helps us to make split-second decisions and it responsible for our fight, flight or freeze response
  • Our mammal brain encourages us to connection and relationships
  • There are also other parts that deal with memory and another that deals with moral and ethical decision-making

“The key to thriving is to help these parts work well together – to integrate them. Integration takes the distinct parts of your brain and helps them to work together as a whole.”

The Whole Brain Child

As a parent, we play a pivotal role in providing experiences that can help with our child’s brain wiring!  Interesting, right?  Children’s brains don’t come fully integrated and the brain’s neural pathways are being wired and rewired based on their experiences. 

Big Emotions

So when our children experience a big scary emotion, around something like a thunderstorm or skinning a knee from falling off their bike or being bullied, we can help them to process what happened.

Big emotions are driven by the right side of the brain, our emotional side.  So when the thunderstorm scares our child, they experience a flood of emotion (fear) and the associated physical response.  Oftentimes children can get stuck in that emotion and have a difficult time moving past it. 

If you have had a scared child, you know how paralyzing that can feel as a parent.  Sometimes we provide empathy, sometimes we try to dismiss the fear because it isn’t logical to us or we ignore it because we think we will make it worse.  All of these seem logical to our adult brain, but they won’t likely help our children to move past the fear. 

Name It to Tame It

So what can we do to help our kiddos? We can utilize the Name It to Tame It strategy.

The strategy’s key premise is that by facilitating storytelling, we help to bring in the logic from the left side of the brain by going through what actually happened, putting the events in order and naming the emotion. 

By helping our children tell their stories, it helps them to make sense of the event and brings logic in so they can use both sides of their brains together and move on to a place of feeling better. 

In the case of my client that I spoke with earlier, her son started associating bedtime and thunderstorms. As a result, he was scared to go to bed because those two events were linked in his brain.  I shared a parenting script with her so she can help him process and move past his fear. Now I’m sharing it with you!

Parenting Script

During a calm time, sit down with your child or while doing a quiet activity together, like coloring.

“I know that you’ve been having a hard time at bedtime since the thunderstorm. Let’s try to remember the day of the thunderstorm.  First, we went through our bedtime routine.  Remember you took a bath, then brushed your teeth, then we read books and then we sang songs.  Then Mommy and Daddy gave you hugs and kisses and said good night and left the door a crack when we left the room.  Then what happened after I left?”

Encourage your son to tell you what happened.

Name the emotion:

“Right, the thunder was loud and you felt scared.” 

Validate his feelings:

“I know that didn’t feel good, did it?

Empathize with how he is feeling:

“I remember being scared of thunder when I was young.”

Reassure him that you came right away and that everything was ok:

“Let’s remember that when I knew you were scared; Mommy came right into your room and took really good care of you until you felt better.”

Remind him that you will always be there anytime he needs you:

“Mommy will always be there for you when you need me.”

Create new associations by focusing on the parts of his bedtime routine and his room that he loves so you can highlight the good parts that happen every night:

“Thunder doesn’t happen every night.  It only happens sometimes and you are safe inside our house.  What happens every night? You take a really fun bath and play with your bath toys.  Then we read stories and sing songs.  Every night at bedtime, Mommy and Daddy give you kisses and hugs and say good night.  Every night you have your lovey to snuggle with.  Those are the things that happen every night.”

Write a Book

Consider writing and illustrating a book together.  Research and write about thunder. Integrate how everything is ok, thunder doesn’t happen all the time, Mommy and Daddy are always there.  Focus on the normal bedtime routine and his favorite parts. Integrate his lovey into the story. 

Read the book as much as he wants. This is how he is processing his emotions. Be prepared to read it A LOT!

The Result

By using the Name It to Tame It strategy, you are helping your child to learn to overcome their fears with your support.

Utilizing storytelling can become a natural way to deal with difficult situations.  It gives you and your child a powerful tool for dealing with adversity into adulthood and throughout life. 

Sleep Coach Tips

  • When reassuring your child that you will always be there when they are scared, they may start saying “I’m scared” as a bedtime stalling tactic. Look to see if your child is really scared or if they have come up with a way to get some extra time instead of going to sleep. Little tricksters! Set your limits and stick to them if they aren’t legit scared.
  • If you see storms on the radar and suspect that they may be coming your way, consider turning your little one’s sound machine up or adding a second sound machine until the storm passes. 
  • Should your child wake scared, stay calm, provide comfort and try to get your little one back to sleep as soon as possible. If they are scared the next day, you’ve got the Name It to Tame It strategy to help!

Parent Coaching

I offer one-on-one parent coaching to provide parents with strategies to bring more peace to your house, deepen your connection with your child and to make parenting more fun!  If you are on the struggle bus or you want to get ahead of your child’s most baffling behaviors, schedule a Child Behavior Rescue session with me!

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