8 ways to talk to kids about disasters
With the ever-growing, constantly moving, never sleeping media environment we live in today, kids are some of the first to see or hear about tragedy and disaster around the corner, or around the world. For example, last year’s earthquake in Haiti, the Gulf oil spill, and as of last Friday, the quake and tsunami in Japan. But as kids are exposed more and more to disturbing news footage, Twitter updates and Facebook posts, they’re going to go to their parents, teachers and pastors with 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?
Here’s some suggestions from our communications and media staff on how to talk with children about this disaster and its impact.
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.
2. Provide clear, simple answers
Limit your answer to the question asked and use simple language.
3. If you don’t know the answer, 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.
4. Follow media reports or online updates privately
Young children in particular are easily traumatized, and seeing or hearing about the horrifying details of the quake 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 it was an act of nature that could not be repeated in your 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 Japan by giving a donation to a reputable charity such as World Vision.
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.