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My almost-three year old has the strangest love/hate relationship with thunder and lightning. He will often react with fear when he sees lightning or hears thunder, and will talk about "I am scared of thunder", "I don't want there to be thunder", etc.; but then when we walk out into a thunderstorm, or look out the window, he will be incredibly fascinated and say "I love thunder", "Daddy can I see more lightning" (when there is not some for a while), etc.

Will it be helpful to him overcoming his fear of thunder (which often means sleeping in our bed at night when there are bad storms) to encourage the 'love' side of things (I tried taking him outside during the last one, which included some small hail, and he loved it and was sad when the hail stopped)? Or am I making it more likely for him to have nightmares about thunder?

Intuitively it seems like it should help to give positive associations, but he also had very significant negative reactions that night (as bad or worse than before). I realize things don't change overnight, but I don't want to be making things worse.

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This kind of thing is pretty common, my older son has a similar love/hate-relationship with, of all things, hot air balloons. It was triggered when he saw one float past really close, enough to see the flame and hear the "pssshh" sound when it was lit, and even since he's been spotting hot air balloons everywhere, both actual ones (you'd be amazed how often they'd used in advertising...) and more, um, imaginative ones. Ball on top of a bucket? Hot air balloon. Ice cream cone? No, hot air balloon. Chandelier? No, hot air balloon. Jumping castle? No, hot air balloon, and he was full-on clinging and screaming petrified of these for the longest time. You get the idea.

To get back on topic, the way phobias are treated in adults is called systematic desensitization, and the basic idea works well enough in kids as well: exposure to increasing doses, but keeping them in full control. So first you can read a cartoon book about hot air balloons, then you can look at some pictures of hot air balloons, then you can watch a video about hot air balloons on YouTube... you get the idea. If they get scared or don't want to do it, back off, let them try again later.

It's taken a year and half, but now he's pretty much gotten over the fear. The fascination remains though, and we're seriously thinking of attending a hot air balloon festival later this year!

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