Your 10-year-old isn't outgrowing her fear of lightning. What's wrong?
Parent advice from our panel of staff contributors
Probably nothing. But I think knowledge cancels out fear, and happily there's plenty you can teach your 10-year-old about lightning. Show her cool photos and videos; teach her the safety steps that ensure lightning can't hurt her. Heck, judging by social media posts, if you can teach her that the word isn't spelled "lightening," she'll be way ahead of the game.
When we were small, our father would gather the kids on the porch as a storm approached, then we'd sit there, as a family, and watch it hit. Lightning, thunder, wind … scary stuff to a kid on his own. But in the company of the family — laughing, talking, learning about what causes lightning and thunder, maybe taking some photos — there was nothing to fear. We did the same thing with our kids, and they (and we) still enjoy watching a good storm roll in.
"A child who has been generally anxious or fearful for her whole life needs your help finding signs of safety," says clinical psychologist Lawrence J. Cohen, author of "The Opposite of Worry: The Playful Parenting Approach to Childhood Anxieties and Fears" (Ballantine Books). "The anxious brain is biased for danger. It sees signs of danger much better than signs of safety."
Rather than waiting for her to outgrow the fear (which may or may not happen eventually), patiently help her put her perfectly valid fear of lightning, which is capable of causing real harm, after all, in perspective.
"Parents often fall too far to one side or the other," Cohen says. "Either, 'Oh, no! I don't want you to be upset! We'll make sure we never go outside when there's a chance of thunderstorms. You don't have to go to camp.' Or, 'Don't be such a baby. It's not going to hurt you.'
"In between is, 'I can see you're scared and I want to help you.'"
Then tackle the fear as a project, Cohen says, rather than something you will solve overnight.
"You can start by saying to your child, gently, 'Look at me and really see my eyes and see whether I'm worried about this,'" he says. "Start drawing them out of that stuck, scared place."
Inch her closer and closer to a window or porch where she can safely watch and hear the thunderstorm. It may take several storms before your daughter makes it all the way to the viewing spot.
"It's time consuming, but it's really worth it," Cohen says. "When a child lives in fear, they operate at either zero or 100. Either they've avoided the thing altogether — the spider, lightning, the pool — and they're at zero. Or they're anywhere near the fear and they're flooded, and they're immediately at 100."
You want to get her used to operating at a midpoint between the two. She's aware of the lightning, but she isn't flooded with fear.
"You don't want to find yourself saying, 'You never have to play outside,'" Cohen says. "You need to give them a gentle push and tackle the fear one small step at a time."
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