Unless you live in a cave or in solitary confinement, you have heard about the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan last week. The photographs and videos of the destruction are enough to give you nightmares. If this natural disaster has upset you, there’s no doubt that they’ve made your children nervous . . . scared, even.
It’s not just the worldwide natural disasters – like Haiti last year, and Japan this year – that can freak our kids out. In the United States, we experience tornados, floods, and hurricanes every year. The destruction is printed in our newspapers, and they are broadcast on TV, YouTube, and online.
While it would be great if we could completely shield our children from the upsetting photographs and images, this isn’t realistic. We live in a technology-driven world.
So how do you talk to your children about natural disasters? How can you explain that natural disasters – tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis – and other scary events happen, while helping your children feel safe?
Talk About the Natural Disaster, but Keep it Simple. When you have a young child, you don’t need to go into a lot of detail. Keep your description simple. Reassure your children that it isn’t happening to them and that they’re safe.
Discuss Your Emergency Plans. To help your children feel better, you may want to discuss your own emergency plan in the event a natural disaster happens in your town. For example, if you live in an area where tornados occur, talk about where the family will go (basement, hall bathroom, storm cellar, etc.) in the event there’s a tornado warning.
Allow Your Children to Express their Feelings. Don’t automatically say, “Don’t be worried or sad.” Allow your children to express their feelings. You should respond to their fears and worries with reassuring statements. For example, “I know you’re scared that we could have an tsunami. But we don’t live near water, so it’s not possible for that to happen here.”
Pay Attention to Your Own Reaction to the Event. Young children react to natural disasters in different ways. If your preschooler hasn’t seen the images on TV, or he hasn’t been directly affected by the event, it’s possible he will have no reaction to what’s happened. However, if your child has noticed that you’re upset by whatever has happened, he is more likely to react negatively.
When talking to your children about the natural disaster, it’s important that you pay attention to your posture and facial expression. Try to keep your emotions in check. If you act like everything is OK, chances are your child will feel safe.
Limit Exposure to Repeated Images and Video. This isn’t always possible, but if you can, you will want to keep your child away from the distressing photographs and videos. Don’t watch newscasts when your young child is with you. Repetitive images and videos might stress out your children and confuse him into thinking the same natural disaster has occurred again.
Use the Natural Disaster to Teach a Lesson. Don’t be afraid to turn a natural disaster, or another scary event, into a teaching moment. If people died, like in the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of 2011, your child may ask you, “What happens after people die?” Whatever your religious beliefs, this is the right moment to discuss your beliefs about God.
You could also use the natural disaster to talk to your children about kindness and helping others. But don’t just talk – walk the walk. Donate to a relief organization and allow your children to put the stamp on the envelope and mail it.
What Tips Do You Have?
What about you? How have you discussed the Japanese tragedy to your children? What has worked for your children, and what hasn’t?
Discuss below in the comments!