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Expert: When Weather Gets Rough, Calm Parents = Calm Kids

PHOTO: Severe weather is part of life in Missouri, but experts say when parents stay calm and reassure their children that they are prepared, kids are less likely to suffer from weather-related anxiety. Photo courtesy of morguefile.com.
PHOTO: Severe weather is part of life in Missouri, but experts say when parents stay calm and reassure their children that they are prepared, kids are less likely to suffer from weather-related anxiety. Photo courtesy of morguefile.com.
March 10, 2014

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Most Missouri youngsters have hidden under the covers in fear of a thunderstorm, but for some children, weather anxiety can turn into a crippling phobia on even the brightest, sunniest days. Experts say helping kids cope almost always comes down to helping their parents.

Dr. Edward Christophersen is a clinical psychologist with Children's Mercy Hospital. He said Missourians can't control the weather, but they can control how they teach their kids how to react to it.

"If the parents since birth have been modeling really anxious behavior when they were around their kids, it's very difficult to teach the kids how to deal with it without teaching the parents how to deal with it first," Christophersen said.

Parents can begin calmly introducing kids to the sound and feel of gentle rain from infancy, he said. As they grow, he suggested regularly exposing them to the family's storm-shelter area during calm weather - even using it as a place to do homework, on occasion - so it won't be associated with scary times.

While behavioral therapy can help children who suffer from severe weather-related anxiety, the doctor said treating the them often involves first treating their parents.

"If the parents are going to expect the child to be able to take a couple breaths and relax, then the parents need to be able to take a couple breaths and relax," he pointed out.

If the phobia severely affects the child's ability to attend school or sleep alone, or is regularly causing physical symptoms such as upset stomach and headaches, he added, it would be wise for the child and parent to seek professional help together.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - MO