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How to talk to your kids about natural disasters

When natural disasters — like floods, earthquakes, hurricanes and tornadoes — happen you can’t shield kids from the news and they often have many questions. So, how do you talk to your kids about natural disasters in ways they will understand?

mom talking to daughter

When tragedy strikes — like floods, tornadoes, the flash Tsunami in Australia or the devastating earthquake in Haiti — it’s hard to fully shield kids from the news. And when they catch wind of it, they have many questions… including how it could happen and what it means. Here’s how to talk to them about it.

Know the facts

Before you even consider sitting down with your kids to talk about a natural disaster, educate yourself on what’s happened and how it’s impacting people and the environment. And don’t stop at just one news story — two to three stories from different news organizations will give you a fuller picture so that you know what you are talking about.

Also, anticipate some of the questions your kids may have — think about the hows and whys of the disaster. Then do a little research so that you can answer these questions with confidence. For example, FEMA kids has information about tornadoes, or find out if there was an earthquake, and how big it was.

Be honest

Once you know what’s happening and why, it’s time to talk to the kids about the natural disaster. But where do you begin? With honesty.

“Kids in today’s world are very advanced souls, and should be treated almost as equals. Youngsters need to see and understand the big picture and how they fit in,” says parent Josia Nakash. “I often show my six-year-old CNN clips of current natural disasters so she can see what nature has to do to get our attention.”

>> In case of emergency: Disaster preparedness

But how do you do this sensitively for your kids? “The answer is to strike a balance between being empathetic to human suffering while still having the child feel safe and secure. Parents should not try to pretend that what the kids are seeing and hearing in the news on TV and the internet is not real and ignore what is happening,” says Dr. Richard Horowitz, a parenting coach and author of Family Centered Parenting.

>> What to do when an earthquake hits

Be sensitive

This is where it gets a little tricky. You want to tell your kids the truth, but you need to do it in a way that won’t hurt or scare them. “With my kids, I usually find it’s better to put things into an analogy to soften the blow. I’ve never believed in lying or misleading my kids when they ask a question, but I will definitely shield them,” says parent Obi Orgnot.

>> After a disaster: A guide for parents and teachers

“There should be discussion and validation of the suffering of others,” agrees Horowitz. Similarly, sensitivity is essential when talking to kids about tragedies.

Let them help

While you might not be jetting off with your kids to assist in natural disaster-affected areas, there are plenty of ways to get involved at home, and that can help aid in kid’s understanding of situations. “At times, asking the kids how they think they might help (donate part of their allowance, collection money from family or neighbors) can be a good learning experience,” says Horowitz.

>> Emergency planning and disaster supplies

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