With all of the natural disasters that seem to be happening right now it is important for us as parents to learn how to properly explain what is going on to our children. This can be hard for some of use considering that we, ourselves, may not know what to do or say. I was able to speak with people from World Vision and Nannies4hire about explaining these events to your children. I would also love to hear your input in the comment section on how you’ve explained these events to your kids, and what you say to them during a tornado/hurricane/flood/earthquake.
These tips are provided by child-focused humanitarian organization World Vision. World Vision responds to natural disasters in the United States and around the world, and is providing urgently needed personal hygiene kits, school supplies for children, and cleaning supplies for recovery efforts in Alabama, Missouri, Minnesota, Virginia, and North Carolina.
Talking to children about tragedy is a job most parents would love to avoid. If only our children did not need to hear about things like this
past month’s devastating tornadoes in Joplin, Missouri, and now, Oklahoma and Kansas. But of course, they do hear. And they are full of questions: Could this happen to me? What’s going to happen to the children? Can I do anything to help the children I see on TV?
World Vision, a humanitarian relief organization with relief teams on the ground in the hard-hit communities and in numerous other relief responses each year, suggests eight ways to make a tough job a little bit easier.
1. Start by listening.
Find out what your child already knows. You can then respond in an age-appropriate way. The aim is not to worry them with the devastating
details, but to protect them from misinformation they may have heard from friends or disturbing images they may have seen on television. Limit your answer to the question asked and use simple language.
2. If you don’t know the answers to their questions, admit it
If your children ask questions that you can’t answer, tell them so, and then do some research to try and help them sort it out. If they ask “Why did this have to happen?” don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know.” If you are part of a faith community, the reassurance offered there can be
invaluable in helping your child sort through the truth that awful things happen.
3. Tell the truth about any relatives who have been affected
If your family has relatives or friends in the tornado-affected areas, it may be doubly terrifying for your child. If your family members are safe, make sure to communicate this as soon as possible. If they are affected or have been harmed, explain in simple language what has happened and alleviate any fears that the same thing may happen to your child.
4. Follow media reports or online updates privately.
Young children in particular are very impressionable, and seeing or
hearing about the horrifying details of the tornadoes may be more than
they can cope with. Adults, too, should ensure they are dealing with
their own emotions by talking to others, so they can continue to respond
well to their children’s needs.
5. Concentrate on making them feel safe.
When tragedies occur, children wonder if the same event could happen in their hometown. If tornadoes are unlikely to occur in your geographic
area, tell children that. Placing themselves in the situations of victims is not all bad—it is a sign of empathy, an essential life skill, but watch for signs of excessive worrying.
6. Give children creative outlets.
Some children may not be prepared to speak about what they have heard, but may find drawing or other creative activities helpful to deal with
their emotions and stress. Their drawings can be helpful starting points for conversation.
7. Model involvement and compassion.
Tell your child that as a family, you will be helping the people in tornado-affected communities by giving a donation to a reputable charity
responding to the tragedy.
8. Give your child a chance to be involved.
Being involved in the solution will help relieve some of their anxiety. Invite them to contribute to the family’s gift by giving something out of their piggy bank, or writing a letter to affected children which you can submit to the local paper on their behalf.
Candi from Nannies4hire.com also sent over these tips:
Earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, floods, landslides, massive wildfires, tornadoes, and volcanic eruptions: these and other natural disasters are making the news with increasing frequency.
How can you help your kids cope with news of such disasters?
- Remain calm. Acknowledge your own feelings of grief or concern, but do not project that you are feeling panicked or upset. Your kids’ reactions will, in large part, mirror your own.
- Don’t negate any feelings your kids have. If your kids are experiencing anxiety, don’t tell them that they shouldn’t feel anxiety: they have a right to feel however they feel. However, you can ask them what (specifically) is causing their anxiety, and you can address those specific concerns. For example, if your son says he is anxious about the tsunami hurting him, his family, and his friends, you can assure him that he, along with his family and friends, are not in the path of the tsunami. You can then explain where the tsunami is expected to hit.
- Explain, in an age-appropriate manner, the nature of what has happened and what will likely happen next. If you don’t know, research the matter. This is a teaching moment. Help your kids understand tectonic plates, the earth’s mantle, air currents, etc. (Note: use terms that are age-appropriate.) Also, make sure to let your kids know if/how the disaster may affect them and those they know and love. For example, will the storm hit your town? Will it affect the town where Grandma lives?
- Explain, in an age-appropriate manner, the aid that has come/will come from various governments and non-profit organizations. It is essential for kids to know that, when emergencies strike, humans and the organizations they form will come to the aid of those in need. Kids must have hope and faith in their fellow human beings.
- Explain, in an age-appropriate manner, what governments and non-profit organizations are doing to prevent a recurrence of the natural disaster or to lessen the impact of subsequent natural disasters. For example, are dams to be built? Again, this speaks to the need to reaffirm hope and faith.
- Explain, in an age-appropriate manner, the psychology and sociology of what has happened. If you don’t know, research the matter. This helps kids develop a basic understanding of human nature; it also fosters empathy.
- Explain, in a manner that is age-appropriate and consistent with your family’s religion, the faith-based elements (if any) of what has happened. If prayer is a part of your faith, pray for those affected by the disaster, their friends and family, and their country.
- Encourage your kids to ask questions about what has happened, what will happen, and why. Kids need to feel comfortable speaking aloud the questions that may be haunting them.
- Monitor your kids’ non-verbal communication. If your kids act unusually withdrawn, clingy, or fearful, you should follow-up with your kids. Ask them how they are feeling. If they are not forthcoming about their feelings, discuss how you perceive their actions (i.e., withdrawn, clingy, fearful, etc.). Tell your kids that you love them and are ready to discuss their feelings whenever they would like to share them with you.
- Monitor your kids’ access to media. For example, if images of disaster victims is too difficult for your kids to view, then don’t watch the news in front of your kids.
- Seek constructive activity. Can your kids donate a box of their outgrown clothing to a non-profit organization that will send that clothing to those in need in the disaster-struck area? Can your family host a lemonade stand to raise funds for the disaster-affected area? Often, people (kids and adults alike) can more easily reconcile themselves to a natural disaster if they feel that they can participate in constructive activity to make things better.