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Helping your child understand natural disasters


Natural disasters are difficult enough to manage as adults — both practically and emotionally. If they scare you and you don’t understand them, just imagine how scary and confusing they can be for kids! Kids need help understanding what natural disasters mean. As scary as hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and other phenomenon are, you can help your kids understand natural disasters.


Kids are still developing a general understanding of the world around them. Throw in what can be inconceivable to many adults and you can really rock their world — even if they don’t experience them first hand! News media or the experience of friends or family can make a child feel overwhelmed and frightened, even if there is no imminent threat to him or her. If your child expresses anxiety about natural disasters — or just starts acting a little strangely around the time of a natural disaster that may or may not affect them — perhaps it’s time to talk about them directly with your child.

1Don’t dismiss fears

Whether your child has been through a natural disaster herself, or is just hearing about it through media, fears are real. It’s normal to be afraid of something you don’t understand, so take the expression of fear as an opportunity to validate feelings and help your child learn about natural disasters

2Give facts

“That will never happen to us, so you don’t have to worry about it,” is not something you can guarantee. Nope, it’s not. Whether it’s a weather phenomenon or an earthquake or some other event, give specifics. Talk about exactly what is happening and the precise confluence of conditions in which the phenomenon occurs.

3Answer questions

When your child has questions, answer them as best you can. And if you don’t know the answer? Find out. Use all the research tools at your disposal (Hello, Internet!) to get your child the answer that will help him understand the phenomenon — age appropriately, of course.

4Talk about how you stay safe

As part of your discussion of facts and conditions, talk about the conditions you create in your home to stay safe — and how you would prepare and keep your child safe should the unexpected occur.

5Careful of media

If your child is expressing anxiety over natural disasters, it’s probably best not to have headline news or even the weather channel as your daily background noise. Kids’ understanding of the world is just developing and little ones don’t understand that Asia is another continent, for example, and the flooding happening there is a world away. Oh, you can have your news, but perhaps catch up during naptime or after bedtime.

6Watch for additional reactions

Your child may react to anxiety around natural disasters in other ways as well. If your child begins acting out or acting in unusual ways, this stress could be a part of it. Especially if your child is pre-verbal, lashing out, becoming clingy or a host of other behaviors may be the only way your child knows to express his or her stress or anxiety.

7Reassure, reassure, reassure

In any instance, one of the best things you can do for your child is to reassure, reassure — and reassure some more. Reassure that you will always to your very best to keep him or her safe. Reassure that you’ll keep your family alert and prepared as best as you can for handling any emergency situation. Reassure your child that he or she will always be loved and cared for.

More on talking to kids about difficult topics

How to talk to your kids about death
Should you tell your kids about a grandparent’s illness?
How to talk to your kids about natural disasters

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