Talking to Children About Disasters

Talking to Children About Disasters

With the devastation in the Houston area in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, and in Puerto Rico after Hurrican Maria children may be aware of what is happening and may ask questions.  Parents may ask for guidance on how to respond to these questions.  The American Academy of Pediatrics has a great resource on Talking to Children about Disasters:

The following steps are rooted in child development and based on the recommendations in this article:

  1. Validate your child's feelings - Let your child know it's OK to be upset about something bad that happened.  Even if the fear expressed by your child seems unnecessary, that fear is still very real to your child. 
  2. Use concrete examples to explain what happened - There is not always a reason for devastation and destruction, and there can be explanations of the actual events, even if there is no explanation for what led up to the events.  If your child sees pictures of uprooted trees, flattened houses or flooded buildings, use these as examples to explain that the hurricane caused this damage.  Talk about the first responders that are working tirelessly to keep people safe.  If your child asks why this happened, you can certainly explain the weather as a phenomenon, but it isn't necessary to create a reason if you don't know why.  It's OK to tell your child "I don't know".  This can be an uncomfortable place and hard to accept, and at the same time, this is sometimes a reality.
  3. Connect your child to an outlet to help - If your child is moved to this point, take advantage by offering an outlet to raise money to send to victims, donate food, clothing and other items or to even get involved in your own local community.

This is a learning opportunity to engage children in their curiosity and talk about what they can do.  There are certainly local organizations that turnaround and directly help those who need in our own community - Open Door being one of those programs we are lucky to have.  There are also organizations that may be sending help to Houston and Puerto Rico.  This disaster will probably take many years of recovery (just as New Orleans is still not fully recovered from Hurricane Katrina) so there will be ample opportunity to help.

It’s our responsibility to be prepared for the questions that may arise or the anxieties that are shared.  Please take a few moments to consider how you want to address this with your child.