How to Talk to Kids About Natural Disasters

While it’s normal to want to shield your children from the ugly truths of devastation and natural disasters for as long as possible, they will eventually be exposed to images of destroyed homes and cities on the Internet, the news or even at school. In order to properly prepare them for the possibility of a catastrophic weather event in your own area, you’ll also need to explain the basics of natural disasters to them. In the end, protecting them from the idea of a natural disaster will leave them ill-equipped to deal with the reality of one, should it ever occur. In the interest of answering your child’s questions stemming from normal curiosity and helping them to learn the basics of emergency preparedness, you’ll need to discuss the matter with them at some point.

Be Honest and Age-Appropriate

Much of how you approach the idea of natural disasters and catastrophic weather will be determined by your child’s age and comprehension level. A preschooler may only be able to grasp very basic concepts and simple preparedness for themselves, while older ones may feel more curiosity about the mechanics of disastrous weather and less fear. Keep your answers age-appropriate, avoiding overly technical language and statements that may scare little ones.

Determine What He Knows

The first step to offering explanations and helping your child understand the basics of natural disaster and severe weather is to determine how much he actually knows. In many cases, you may have to gently explain that some of his preconceived notions or the things that he’s learned from television or his classmates aren’t quite accurate. Beginning your conversation about severe weather and disasters with your child by asking him to tell you what he already knows will give you a good idea of where to start, and the chance to carefully correct any incorrect ideas that he may have on the subject.

Provide Reassurance

Most children are likely to feel some measure of fear when confronted with the idea that their own home or neighborhood could be affected by a natural disaster. While it’s not wise to tell children that such things will never happen in their area, you should explain that they’re mostly uncommon and that safety measures have been put in place by the grownups in his life, like teachers, parents and emergency workers, to ensure that he’s safe and well taken care of should such an event strike in your area. If you’re working on emergency preparedness, it’s especially important to periodically explain that you’re getting ready “just in case,” and that such things are likely to never happen.

Research Answers Together

Your child may very well ask you questions about natural disasters that you don’t know the answers to, giving the two of you the chance to explore the possible answers and pertinent information together. Truthfully answering that you don’t know, but that you’re willing to help your child find the answers he’s looking for on the subject will not only satisfy his curiosity and expand his knowledge base, but also help him to realize that the key to learning new things is to research them when you don’t have the answers readily available. Your research session can also turn up a variety of valuable talking points, facilitating a dialog between the two of you that might otherwise not have happened.

Limit Younger Kids’ Exposure to Sensational Television

Young children below the age of eight often have a difficult time differentiating between what’s real and what isn’t on television. Because fictional shows and movies aired on television often depict natural disasters in an amplified, overly-dramatized manner, kids can get an incorrect view of how these situations happen and what they entail. Limiting kids’ exposure to sensationalized depictions of dangerous weather can help to prevent them from becoming overly traumatized and anxious in regard to the subject. Explaining to younger children that the apocalyptic images they see in some big-budget disaster movies are not real can help to soothe them, but it’s generally best to shield them from those images altogether until they’re better able to understand the difference between the news and a summer blockbuster.

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