For Richardson resident Amanda Hill’s son Reed, a chance conversation about a tornado when he was in preschool sparked weather fears. “Reed is highly sensitive, and [that conversation] just stuck with him,” Hill explains. “When the weather got bad, he would get very anxious and cry.”
Even years later—Reed is now 7—he is very watchful of what’s happening overhead. “A couple of weeks ago, we were at his football game, and there were some clouds and it sprinkled a little,” says Hill. “He had me on the sidelines checking my weather app. He want[ed] to know what was coming.”
Almost every child has concerns about the weather at some point. Storms can be loud and destructive, and they may leave our homes dark and cold. But since weather events are part of everyday life, it’s important for kids to learn to manage their fears.
With some basic knowledge and preparation, they can better control their anxiety—and even come to appreciate a lot of what happens in the skies.
Help Your Child Engage with Weather Forecasts
Weather is big and can be enormously powerful. For some children, that’s exciting and inspiring. “I was vacationing in South Florida when Hurricane Andrew hit in 1992,” recalls NBC 5 Meteorologist Samantha Davies. “I remember being there watching the forecast, seeing the media take over the area, evacuating, and then returning to see the devastation. I remember watching the Weather Channel, seeing the meteorologist reporting on the storm, then actually seeing them out the hotel window. Hurricane Andrew pretty much sealed the deal on me wanting to be a meteorologist.”
For other kids, especially those who thrive on predictability and stability, wild weather is a source of unease. “Reed likes to have control,” Hill notes, “and weather is out of his control.”
While we may not be able to control the weather, there are professionals who can predict it. And encouraging your child to pay attention to what meteorologists say is one way to help keep their concerns from getting out of hand.
“Believe it or not, I grew up terrified of severe weather,” shares Kylie Capps, meteorologist for Fox 4’s Good Day Saturday and Good Day Sunday. “I had an obsession with keeping up with the radar and watching broadcast meteorologists on television. I memorized the county that I lived in when I was really little. That helped me know exactly where I was when watches and warnings were announced.”
You might be surprised at your child’s ability to pay attention to and process a weather report, especially if fears are in play. Hayley Hangartner, who lives in the Collin County community of Lucas, says an afternoon hailstorm led her son Davis to regularly tune into the news.
“We took cover from the storm, and Davis became very frightened,” Hangartner recalls. “From then on, he became almost obsessed with the weather. He wanted to know the temperature and whether it was going to rain. So he began watching the weather each day. He was always asking questions during the forecast.”
Try a couple of hands-on, associated activities to engage your child while watching a weather segment together. Buy items such as a thermometer, rain gauge and wind vane, then let your child compare data collected at home with what the meteorologist reports. Or simply ask your child to watch the forecast and set out the next day’s clothes accordingly.
If they’re not naturally intrigued, a measure of interaction with what they’re watching or reading will help them better absorb the information. That can either set your child at ease about the day ahead or give you an opportunity to talk about what precautions, if any, they may need to take.
“We are so lucky to be able to live in a time when weather forecasts are becoming increasingly more accurate several days out,” Capps says. “We now have the technology and the data that can make that happen. These tools are right at our fingertips, and families can take advantage of that.”
When weather-anxious kids pay attention to the forecast, and then see those predictions come to pass (most of the time!), they can start to relax a bit. They know that the experts will tell them what they need to know.
“Reed’s favorite meteorologists are Samantha Davies and Rick Mitchell from NBC 5,” says Hill. “Tuning into them always helps him. Reed says Rick has all the weather information and is never wrong, so he trusts him when it comes to tornadoes and other severe weather.”
Davies and Mitchell found out about Reed’s interest in their forecasts and even sent him a personalized video, telling him how to stay safe during a storm. “Reed loved it,” Hill says.
Make a Family Safety Plan & Emergency Kit
When it comes to easing kids’ weather anxieties, knowing how to stay safe is just as important as knowing what weather conditions are expected. If severe weather happens to be in the forecast, take time to review your family’s safety plan with your child.
If you don’t have a plan, now is the perfect time to make one—April is in the middle of severe weather season in North Texas. Of course there are thunderstorms during spring, and from March through May, tornado frequency is at its highest.
In June, the weather pattern starts to shift and hurricane season begins. Though we’re not on the coast, remnants of storms in the Gulf of Mexico can mean heavy rain for North Texas. Thus, the months ahead can rattle children who find storms unsettling.
“I think the best advice for kids who are scared about the weather is to ensure they know what to do,” offers Warning Coordination Meteorologist Jennifer Dunn with the National Weather Service office in Fort Worth.
Outline your family’s do’s and don’ts—preferably before a storm is imminent. It’s practical and can go a long way to helping kids feel better. “Having a good understanding of what they should do in a weather event, and practicing it, gives children a sense of control even when they are scared,” Dunn says.
For the average storm, have a few activities in mind that will keep your child occupied (even if the power is interrupted). Whether they’re fingerpainting by candlelight or putting on a shadow-puppet show, special family time can make thunder and lightning less scary.
If the weather rages after bedtime, make sure your child knows where to find comfort. “If your child is scared of storms and it’s nighttime, is it OK for them to come into the parents’ bedroom, or do you want them to go to another room, maybe with a sibling?” Dunn says.
There’s more to take into consideration for dangerous weather. NBC 5’s Davies suggests talking to your kids about how you are going to receive your storm warnings. “Will it be phone, TV or social media?” she says. “And discuss where to go if your home is in the path of severe weather. Let your child know where the safe spot is. If it’s a severe weather day, get helmets ready in a closet together.”
Helmets (bike, motorcycle or athletic) are just one component of a severe weather kit, which you can ask your child to help you assemble. Have your kiddo think through what items your family would need if you lost power, couldn’t leave the house or found yourself in a disaster. What light source could you use? Do you have a weather radio? Is there enough water on hand? (Dunn recommends checking ready.gov for suggested emergency kit contents.)
When severe weather is possible, your child can help you check your kit and make sure everything is ready.
Of course, the key is to help them feel prepared, not panicked. With that in mind, it’s not just what you say but how you say it. “For parents, educating your kids on what to do and when and how to take shelter is a huge help,” Dunn says, “but also doing your best to remain calm helps your kids, too.”
That’s what Amanda Hill’s husband did during the tornado outbreak of October 2019.
She was out of town, so he gathered their sons and the dog and hunkered down in a bathroom that is considered their safe spot at home. They tuned into the weather on the phone, and while Reed was anxious, knowing exactly what was happening and talking about it calmly with his dad helped him through the situation. (Their home was fortunately not in the areas devastated by the tornadoes.)
“Information-gathering is what helps Reed stay pretty even-keeled during a storm,” says Hill. “He wants to see and know what is going on. Anticipating a storm and wondering what will happen is what really drove his anxiety.”
It was important for Reed to gather information continuously, not just when a storm is underway. “When Reed became frightened about weather, we started researching different weather patterns. He even did a science fair project in preschool on tornadoes—including a full presentation and demonstration to his class,” says Hill. “His anxieties got better over time as he’s learned about weather. He feels empowered by information.”
That was true for Davis Hangartner as well.
As he and his mom regularly watched forecasts, discussed safety and read up on weather events, Davis became comfortable with the varied states of the skies. Today, he is more fascinated than fearful. “He enjoys seeing full moons, lightning shows, fog over our backyard and the different clouds every day,” Hangartner says. “During the snow this year, he bundled up every morning and was anxious to get out. Davis was mesmerized. I’m so glad he enjoyed it.”
Learn All About It
When it comes to the weather, “knowledge is power,” says NBC 5 Meteorologist Samantha Davies. Kids are naturally curious, and learning about weather can be an important tool to calm their concerns. Here are some ideas to engage them:
Hands-on experiments: Davies demonstrates experiments through her “Science with Samantha” segments, with a new video posted each Wednesday and shared on Davies’ Facebook page.
Screen time: Consider turning on the Weather Channel instead of the kids’ usual shows. There are always programs showcasing unusual and extreme weather conditions. YouTube is another resource for weather videos, particularly those from eyewitnesses. (Just make sure the content isn’t too intense and is otherwise kid-appropriate.)
Read, read, read: There are tons of kids’ books on this topic. Jennifer Dunn, a National Weather Service meteorologist and mom of elementary-age daughters, loves National Geographic Kids weather books. Richardson mom Amanda Hill says her son enjoys selections from author Lauren Tarshis’ I Survived series, which includes stories about Hurricane Katrina, California wildfires and the 1888 Children’s Blizzard, among others.
Community resources: The DFWChild community event calendar highlights a variety of local science events, including those pertaining to weather. Plus, area museums offer permanent weather exhibits.
The Perot Museum of Nature and Science explains weather phenomena through hands-on activities; for example, kids can use radar data and make weather predictions, and even give the forecast in front of a green screen.
Children can try their hand at broadcast meteorology at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History as well; the museum also features rare weather artifacts from the National Weather Service. In Collin County, your child can learn about air pressure at Sci-Tech Discovery Center.
There are also earth science activities at the Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden at the Dallas Arboretum.
Classes and day camps are another option. Hayley Hangartner of Lucas enrolled her son in Club SciKidz Dallas’ weeklong Young Meteorologist program. Register for this summer’s classes at clubscikidzdallas.com. The Dallas Arboretum’s STEM camps also include some weather-related activities; Energy Explorers, for example, teaches campers about solar science and wind. Log onto dallasarboretum.org.
The DFW National Weather Service office teaches about severe thunderstorms, including how to stay safe, through SKYWARN classes. They are free and open to adults and children. All classes are currently virtual; find info at weather.gov/fwd/skywarn.
School visits: Both Davies and Fox 4 meteorologist Kylie Capps make visits—virtual, for now—to schools to discuss weather and what it’s like to be a meteorologist. Ask your child’s teacher to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com to inquire about a visit.
Image courtesy of iStock.