Every day, the news media on TV, radio and the internet bombard us with news of fresh disasters and tragedies ranging from hurricanes, storms, earthquakes, fires, tornadoes and tsunamis to terrorism and war. All of these are events bring plenty of fear and concern to adults, so it is not hard to imagine just how devastating they can seem to young children.
It is very easy to cross the extremely fine margin between honest, age-appropriate discussion of disasters with your children and providing excessively graphic detail that will scare them. In a world that has traumatic events broadcast to living rooms 24/7, here are some tips that will help you to talk to your children about them in a calm and balanced way.
- Stay Calm
It is inevitable that your children will – from time to time – hear about wars, terrorism and natural disasters that occur all over the world. When they see these events unfolding, it is essential to give them the reassurance that it is very unlikely that anything similar will happen to them. Because children will often pick up what their parents are feeling, if you look like you are panicking, your child will react in a similar way.
No matter how old your child is, there will always be doubts in their mind about their safety. Talking to them in a calm tone and not looking anxious will help your child feel that the whole family is safe. To help you keep a level head, you could try reaching out to other adults in your family or your friends with whom you can freely discuss your own emotions.
- Find out What They Already Know
When a major tragic event occurs, your children are likely to find out about it through TV reports, their school and friends, or through conversations between adults around them. In fact, regardless of their age, they will in all likelihood have heard something about the event before you have a chance to talk to them.
As you plan what to tell your child, it is important to first find out what they already know in order to identify any misconceptions that they have. After this, you will be better placed to address whatever questions, concerns or feelings they may have. The best option is to have straightforward and direct dialogue that explains the situation simply but answers their questions satisfactorily.
- Use Simple Language without Too Much Graphic Detail
Keeping things simple is one of the most vital things you must be aware of when explaining tragedies to your young children. Always avoid going into elaborate and unnecessary details and simply stick to the facts at hand.
If an event keeps getting replayed and reported on, your kids may ask you the same questions over and over, which may make you want to give more detailed answers. However, in-depth explanations that could include details of property damage, injuries or even deaths will only cause more confusion and will spark more anxiety. What you need to do instead is determine a simple explanation that is age-appropriate that you repeat patiently if your child asks more questions.
- Offer Reassurance
Reports of disasters on the news often show depictions of destroyed homes as well as homeless and injured people. When children are exposed to these images, it is natural for them to wonder if something similar could happen to their town or neighborhood. Offer your child reassurance by insisting to them that these events, such as natural disasters, are occurrences and that your town is unlikely to be affected by one.
Let your child know that you have a contingency plan in the unlikely event that you are hit by a natural disaster. Explain the general plan and plan to have earthquake, storm and fire drills at least once a year. These will help your child to feel more clam and to know that they will be safe if the unthinkable were to happen.
- Limit and Monitor Exposure to the Media
Although both children and adults are always curious to find out the latest information whenever disaster strikes, it is never a good idea to expose young children to the unnecessary details and graphic descriptions.
During such times, there is usually a deluge of images and sounds from the disaster scene on social media, television, radio and mobile apps. However, many of these intense images are shown and repeated with very little context. When added to the tendency of the news media to skip between unrelated disasters from one report to the next, it is easy for children to get confused.
There are several different ways through which children express their fears and anxiety with regard to tragic events in their world. While some may ask many direct questions, some may be afraid to go outside the house or may have nightmares. Once you understand your child’s fears, you can come up with a plan of how you will talk to them about disasters and how to reassure them that everything will be okay.