Talking to Children about Natural Disasters


With the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, we felt that it would be important to give some tips on how to speak to children about disasters.
You may be surprised about how much your children know about what's happening in the wider world and the kinds of misconceptions or concerns they have about tragedy and their own safety.
For some expert information, we contacted both Dr. Michael Murphy, a psychiatrist in New York and James Sniffen, Programme Officer of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).  The UNEP mission is to provide leadership and encourage partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations. It is an advocate, educator, catalyst and facilitator, promoting the wise use of the planet's natural assets for sustainable development through a wide range of partnerships and environmental monitoring.
Here are our six tips for talking to your children about natural disasters: 
Make sure YOU have a lot of current information: Tragedy comes in all forms, make sure that you are informed on the topic you will discuss with your child.  Learn as much new information as possible, so that you are comfortable with the issue. Be positive at all times.
Take your child to a quiet place, give them your full attention: This conversation may be difficult and having background noise and distractions may make the discussion even more difficult.  Try to turn off the phone and TV and let the child know that you are there for them.
Allow the child to ask questions: You may even want to start by giving your child a chance to ask questions. With your new wealth of knowledge, you should be prepared to answer most questions. If you don't know the answer, let the child know that you'll get back to them - or find out the answer together (depending on the child's age).
Gauge for age: Adjust your talking points to your child's age. Younger children may just need the very basic information whereas older children may want details and background. Also remember, each child - simply based on their individual personality - will react differently.
Make sure your child feels safe: It is important to let your child know that although some tough events are occurring around the world, he/she is safe and should not worry excessively that something bad will happen to them.
Find a positive outlet: Perhaps you and your child would like to volunteer for an organization that is working to raise money to support those stricken by natural disaster; or simply write a card or draw a picture where your child can express his/her feelings about what is going on. Encourage your child's curiosity about nature by spending more outdoor time together.  It is important that children have a way to release the feelings they have, particularly after you have completed a conversation with them about this topic.