Home About Dr Gayle Counseling Services Speaking Services Online Seminars Articles Press Room Books Contact

Ask Dr. Gayle

Transforming 10 Year Old's Fears

QUESTION: My ten-year-old son has suddenly become very afraid of tornadoes. He blames it on viewing the movie "Twister" but I think it has more to do with the changes he's been through recently: a move to a new house and new school which is much more demanding of him than the old one, and his dad (we're separated and in the process of divorce) had to move away to live with relatives because he was out of work and homeless.

My question is: how should I handle this? I've explored his fears as much as I can and reassured that I will never leave him, but it doesn't seem to be helping.

You have understood the deeper emotional meaning for your son's current fears of tornadoes. Indeed, he may feel as though his family unit has been hit by a "tornado" as you suggest.

You are helping him by listening to his fears and reassuring him. It will take him some period of time before he will be able to assimilate all that has just happened to him and to people he loves. In the meantime, he has put his fears into tornadoes as a way to express his feelings about the life changing events he is experiencing.

Help your son cope with his emotional overwhelm by working through his fear of "tornadoes" symbolically. Help him understand what causes tornadoes and how to protect himself if he were caught in one. Gently direct him towards a sense of mastery about the very thing he has chosen to symbolically represent his anxieties.

Continue to discuss the events of separation and divorce and help him remain in contact with his father. Support him to write letters to his Dad, if he desires, or send pictures he draws or stories he writes at school. By incorporating his father into his current school activities, even at a minor level, you may help him to adjust to his new surroundings. Maintaining a connection with his father through sharing his new life activities may prove healing, allowing him to bridge the past with the present.

Explore resources in your area for putting your son in contact with other children who may have undergone a similar family process. Programs such as "Kid's Turn" in the San Francisco Bay area provide children with group processes for sharing their experiences. It is important for your son to know that he is not alone. You might also consider the benefit of individual child therapy focused on helping your son express his feelings through this period of change. Play therapy in particular provides children with a framework for mastering their fears.

Support groups can offer a powerful matrix for healing. You, too may benefit from group support through this transition. Taking care of yourself will make it easier for you to be there for your son. Family members going through the changes of divorce often refer to their feelings as akin to being on a broken vessel set out to sea. Membership in a group can provide emotional safe passage across troubled waters.

Remember that self-care through periods of stress is critical to our children's recovery. Parents as well as children need support in transforming fear during highly anxious times!

Return to Article Archive

Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

Return to Dr. Gayle Peterson's Home Page

Copyright 1996-2003.  Gayle Peterson All rights reserved.

Send Comments and Inquiries to Dr. Gayle Peterson at gp@askdrgayle.com