Talking to kids about natural disasters
When kids see natural disasters on TV or unfolding outside their windows, coping with Mother Nature's unforgiving side can be tough whether they're toddlers or teens.
Kids look to their parents, grandparents and older siblings for cues on how to react. To help the children in your life recover from everything from wildfires to prolonged power outages, we recommend:
Don't wait for the worst to happen before you talk about preparedness. Kids aren't so different from us in handling "what ifs." They want to know they'll be OK, no matter what. Keep your tone calm, matter-of-fact and look for teachable moments. If you're stocking up on batteries for example, you can say something like, "Remember that time when the lights went out last winter? If that ever happens again, these batteries will keep our flashlights working and we can pretend we're camping out." Letting kids add something to your emergency kit can help them feel more in control – even if it's as simple as choosing flavors of instant drink mix. See more in this interview we did with Q13 Weekend Morning News.
Have a plan and practice it. Twice a year, go over your family's fire escape plan. If a natural disaster could temporarily close roads and separate you from your kids, make sure they know a trusted neighbor who they could stay with until you make it home from work.
Limit media exposure. Images of wildfires, for example, can be very frightening, and repetition makes it worse. Kids have a hard time understanding that something happening far away isn't coming to their neighborhood. Be sure to point out helpers like emergency shelter volunteers, and use positive statements like, "Isn't it good those people have a safe place to sleep until they can go back home?" Being a helper themselves can ease feelings of powerlessness. Let them pick out a donation to send to a relief center or draw a cheery picture to send with a card.
Keep discussions factual and age-appropriate. If your child asks about earthquakes, for example, it's fine to tell them that earthquakes are normal, natural occurrences and that big ones are very, very rare. Let them know that you've already done important things to prepare (just in case!) like bolting bookshelves to the wall so they won't fall down. Explain that while things could be disrupted for a while (like school being temporarily closed), the really important things won't change. You'll be together, and eventually, things will go back to normal.
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