5 Tips for talking to kids about disasters
This week, we spent a lot of time — much of it sweetened by candy — celebrating a holiday that laughs in the face of fear.
Stranger than any horror movie or fake front-yard cemetery is that millions of people on our country’s East Coast have been dealing with the real fears brought on by a catastrophic storm and its aftermath.
Contributed by Gregory Keer, Family Man
In the wake of all this are questions and the continued worries of children. Those who endured Hurricane Sandy may have nightmares reliving the flooding, the howling winds, and the destruction of their homes, schools and parks. Still more children wonder if anything like that will happen to them.
So it is up to parents to rise from whatever wobbly state the physical and/or emotional devastation may have caused. We must answer the questions of those we have compacted to soothe and protect.
Will I be safe if this happens again?
For kids who were directly touched by the storm, a big question will be if the next disaster might hurt them even more. For young ones who only learned of the disaster, they will wonder if they will be safe if something like this happens to them. In both cases, parents should answer simply and directly — “I will keep you safe.”
While you know you cannot guarantee them safety, they need to hear that there is no doubt that you will do so. You may want to explain some of the ways you will protect them (security measures around the house, an emergency plan if they are away from home, etc.), but what counts most is that they know you are in charge of this basic worry.
Are you scared?
It’s important to acknowledge that being scared is normal for anyone, but this is more about your kid than you, no matter how fearful you were, are or will be. Make sure to remain calm so that your child does not sense your own fear. It’s especially hard if you are dealing with your own emotions of a disaster, so try to speak with other adults before you address your child so you can collect your thoughts. Hugs and comforting touch, sometimes more important than words but certainly in addition to them, will aid in soothing an anxious young person.
Why did this happen?
This is one of the most overwhelming questions because it involves trying to explain how nature works. Nature can give and it can take away. The essential thing is to point out that the vast majority of people do not die or get hurt by nature and, when bad things do happen, we rebuild and move forward. If you wish to get more into detail, this is a perfect teaching moment to research and explain the workings of such phenomena as hurricanes, snow storms and earthquakes.
Can I help the people who got hurt?
A great way for children to gain a sense of control is to lead them to help others. Guide them to charities (he Red Cross and Save the Children are just two options), houses of worship that are acting to assist the affected, even neighborhood or school food or clothing collection efforts so they can take part in making others feel better in a terrible time.
Can I ask more questions?
If at any point you can’t fully respond to a question your child may have, tell him or her that you will get them an answer (from an adult friend, a trusted news source or a doctor). If you choose to allow your kid to watch, listen, or read the news, do it together and in short amounts of time so they are guided and not overwhelmed.
Gregory Keer is an award-winning syndicated columnist, teacher and guest expert in national media. He and his wife have three sons. He can be reached at his fatherhood magazine, www.familymanonline.com.
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