New York, N.Y. With the current devastation being experienced in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, it is important to have some tips on how to speak to children about natural 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, The Alphabet Kids contacted both Dr. Michael Murphy, a psychiatrist in New York City and James Sniffen, Program Officer of the U.N. 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 six tips for talking to your children about natural disasters:
- Make sure your child feels safe. It is important to let them know that although some tough events are occurring or have occurred, he/she is safe and should not worry excessively that something bad will happen to them.
- Make sure YOU have factual, current information. Tragedy comes in all forms. Make sure that you are informed on the topics you will discuss with your child (What is a Hurricane; Flooding; Why fires have happened; The Rescue Effort, etc.). Learn as much new information as possible, so that you are comfortable with your discussion. 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, computer, and TV. Let the child know that you are there for them and your attention is focused directly on them.
- Allow your 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 seek an answer and get back to them – or find out the answer together (depending on the child’s age).
- Gauge your answers 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.
- Find a positive outlet. Perhaps you and your child would like to volunteer for an organization that is working to support those stricken by natural disaster and the recovery. You can also write a card or draw a picture so your child can express his/her feelings. Reach out to a neighbor in need. This is a time for everyone to band together and help one another. Encourage your child’s curiosity about nature by spending more outdoor time together in the future. It is important that children have a way to release the feelings they have, particularly after you have completed a conversation with them about the storm and its aftermath.