Tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis. It feels like we’ve had more than our share of natural disasters recently, doesn’t it?
Whether the disaster occurs in your hometown or in a country on the other side of the globe, parents ask the same question: how do I talk to my young kids about these devastating events?
One of our goals as parents is to keep our kids feeling safe and protected in the face of a scary situation. While it is important to tell our children that they are safe, it is also important to show them. Here are seven ideas to consider:
- Tell them the news yourself. News media is created for adults, not kids, and the content can be extremely frightening to young children. Rather than letting your kids watch the disaster on television, tell them the news yourself. That way, you can choose your own words and deliver the news in a way that is age-appropriate for your child. Use language that your know your child will understand. The younger the child, the less elaborate detail required.
- Try not to panic. This is especially difficult when the disaster is at your own back door, but take a cue from Amy’s photo of her kids eating turkey sandwiches in the bathtub—even in a trying situation, she found a way to keep it light-hearted. Try your best to stay in control and strong in the face of the situation, and your kids will feel protected by you.
- Listen. Ask your kids how they are feeling and listen to what they have to say. Let them express their fear, anger, sadness, or whatever it is they are feeling. Verbalizing their feelings helps kids process their emotions in a healthy way. There is no right or wrong reaction for a young child to have. Listen with empathy and without judgment.
- Answer their questions. As parents, we want to teach our kids to come to us when they have questions. This is especially important as our kids head into adolescence and their teens. Start the practice now of being there to answer their questions, and you will lay the foundation for them to continue coming to you with their questions in the years to come.
- Prepare. Involve your kids in putting together a disaster kit for your home. Ask them to help think of what to include. Let your kids help write the list and bring the kids to the store to shop. Preparing for a potential disaster is a way for kids to feel empowered and ready to face adversity.
- Help out. There are so many ways to help others in need. Team up with your kids to find ways to help make a difference in the lives of people who are suffering. Ask for their ideas. After the earthquake in Haiti, my eight-year-old set up a lemonade stand. I drove her to the local Red Cross, and it was with enormous pride that she donated the jar full of quarters and nickels that she’d earned.
- Consider it an opportunity to get to know your kid. Communication is everything in a relationship, and this is an opportunity to talk. If discussing the natural disaster leads to another topic, go with it. Let your child lead the way. Chances are, you’ll learn something new about your child.
Whatever the topic, listening without judgment and answering their questions honestly shows kids that they have a voice that matters, that they are important, and that they are loved. This is the best way we can show our kids that they are safe, even in the face of a natural disaster.