Here’s What I Did To Help My Son Cope With His Fear of Weather
By Selena Mills
Photo © carriecolephotography/Twenty20
Jul 13, 2018
I can’t quite remember when it started, I just remember the clear and present fear that welled up in my son’s eyes on an average rainy day when thunder rolled and lightning zipped down through the sky. What began as common baby and toddler fear in response to big loud noises — like fireworks and stately metal delivery trucks kissing the pavement — quickly turned into an intense physical and emotional reaction to sudden, loud bursts of noise for our growing son.
As fear of the unknown often can, it mounted and seeped into my son’s psyche, teasing his natural curiosity about the natural world around him. The weather, it would turn out, was a source of anxiety. And as his loving, concerned, outdoor-enthusiast parents, we weren't sure what to do.
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Little did we know, he was reading books at the school library and googling tornadoes, lightning and anything else about storms and weather systems that his big brain could think of.
Obviously we were proud of his natural instinct to research and learn, but what he picked up didn’t exactly help matters. We didn’t want to validate his fears by cancelling family camping trips or not helping him develop his own emotional intelligence. Instead we wanted to help him find a way to still enjoy outdoor activities.
What I came to realize is that it wasn’t our son who was or is responsible for our enjoyment. In his world, his fears are very much rational, and it wouldn’t benefit any of us if he saw his parents stressed out and frustrated by his fear.
And fear can pop out at the most inopportune times and halt an outdoor activity in its tracks, made more difficult when one is out in the bush for extended periods of time. Like when we went with a friend to Sundance in South Dakota on a wild horse reserve.
Oh the thunderstorms that went down on that epic road trip! We got caught in them, they hammered down on us, we camped in them and they were indeed magnificent enough to cause a little unease in even us tough-as-nails mama bears.
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When people say it takes a village, they aren’t lying. There came a point when I was at my wits end during that trip with trying to ease my son’s own explosive responses to the storms — I was grateful for the support and reprieve offered by the friends (including the kids and teens) we were with.
What I came to realize is that it wasn’t our son who was or is responsible for our enjoyment.
Oh, we covered all the territory. We told him tall and gregarious stories about the (seven) grandfathers bowling and making some wicked strikes. We wrapped him up in bear hugs. We danced and thrashed about like wild jackalopes in the wet and muck. We had clear and intellectually stimulating conversations about Indigenous kinship with the land (in that we are relatives of the land and that the earth needs water and the rain to survive just like we do). We talked about the science and unpredictability of the weather. And as the rain-soaked days passed, my son started to find the beauty and charm in the unknown that for so long made strident attempts to steal his thunder.
By the end of last summer he had meditative breathing techniques down to a remembered and immediate response. But we do have to backtrack sometimes, as the seasons change, and remind him of that summer.
Challenge Their Fears
When I can, I will (and do!) use fun activities as teachable moments to challenge his fears — things like riding a scary rollercoaster together. And apparently there is research to back up the ways in which riding amusement park rides can help kids conquer their fears. I believe there’s some validity to that, what with the rush of adrenaline leading up to a big release of endorphins, the bonding and eventually associating a positive outcome from facing one’s fears.
We also expose him to the elements. This means that if he’s having a meltdown when we’re camping during a thunderstorm, we encourage him to choose a coping tool instead of us telling him what to do. He’s become an avid fan of Creative Mind Journeys.
Essentially we modeled different ways to cope — by listening to him, talking to him and entertaining him and never making him feel like he’s being irrational and definitely not by forcing him to do anything.
It may just be the weather to us, but for some kids it’s a storm of emotions. We can only do our best to be their umbrella.