Talking to Kids About Disasters
As a parent, you want to help your kids understand the world they live in. And explaining disasters, tragic events and scary news is one of the toughest things to do. If you find it hard to process horrific events yourself, you may be wondering what your kids may be feeling and how to explain it to them. Here are a few pointers.
First off, remember that your kids learn to react by watching your reactions. Take care of your own needs, so that you can be more available to tend to your kids' needs.
While it's tempting to stay glued to the TV while events are unfolding, kids don't need to be bombarded with the gory details and horrific photos. At the same time, don't stick your head in the sand; chances are your kids are being exposed to the news elsewhere, and they should feel comfortable talking about it at home.
Even if your kid is too young to understand everything he's seeing and hearing, he still picks up on your concerns. So talk to him using words he understands. Answer questions calmly, but without going into a lot of detail. Don't overload them with information beyond their emotional level and ability to process.
If they are watching TV or are old enough to read the news, letting them discuss the matters helps them process the information and gives you a better understanding of their perspective.
Kids can't always identify their stressors or relate their behavior to a particular stressor. Be aware of any significant change in behavior
or personality, increase in physical complaints (headaches, stomachaches, etc.), nervous habits, crying, nightmares
, excessive clinging, etc.
If your kid does seem like he's acting out, don't chastise him for it. Recognize it as possible signs of stress. Some kids may display regressive behaviors
such as thumb-sucking
, temper tantrums
. Academic performance may suffer; withdrawal from social activities may be noted. Provide reassurance and unconditional love.
Use visual aids (e.g. a globe or a map) to convey the distance between your kids and the disaster. If there are family members away from home, be sure that their locations are noted, as well.
is one of the most important channels kids have for dealing with stress
and mastering their fears
and anxieties. Taking the role of an aggressor increases kids' feelings of control over their world. Younger kids may also find it easier to express their feelings through drawings.
Allow them to be more dependent on you during this time of stress. Kids need comfort and reassurance even more when stressed.
Taking action can alleviate feelings of helplessness and anger. Participation can range from praying, sending care packages, or donating money, clothes and toiletries to the Red Cross. Find out what your local religious institution or community is doing to help with the recovery and get involved.
If you see your kids becoming overly anxious, or behaviorally affected, and are at a loss as to how to deal with these issues, call your pediatrician or seek the services of a child psychologist. Dr. Vicki Panaccione
is available to answer your personal questions regarding these matters. Contact her through ParentsConnect or betterparentinginstitute
.If you're looking for ways to help the victims of the earthquake in Haiti, we've compiled a list of organizations to which you can contribute.