In the face of back-to-back natural disasters, with their resulting high waters, big winds, and widespread loss and destruction, the world can feel overwhelming right now for kids and adults alike. However, grown-ups have words, resources, and experiences to draw on that little ones don’t.
Depending on the individual child, experiencing, watching, or hearing about crises and disasters—both natural or manmade—can produce fear, anxiety, sadness, and disorientation. What they see, believe, and rely on as dependable and predictable gets turned upside down. Fortunately, effective response can lead to healing, helping, and growing.
Writing for Everyday Family blog, in a post titled “How to Talk to Your Kids About Natural Disasters,” Angela England shares her family’s personal experience with weather-related loss. “When our family went through a tornado two years ago it made me very aware of how non-intentional I'd been with emergency preparedness things with our kids. So we started changing that together as a family.” In talking to kids before a disaster she recommends that parents “know what natural disasters are most frequent in your area,” “talk about the science,” “create a plan,” and “practice your plan.”
Along with conversations about what our family would do if this happens to us tomorrow, disasters can also lead to discussion—and action—about what our family can do to help those affected today. Or, as England says, after disaster strikes it’s important to “point out who is helping…give kids a way to help… and put things in perspective.”
Long-time beloved children’s TV personality Mr. Rogers, once said, "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world."
In a Special to the Washington Post titled “Even Kids Have a Role in Helping After Natural Disasters,” Sarah Hamaker writes, “While some kids seem to be born wanting to help others, most need a little push to think and act more compassionately.” She quotes Christina Moreland, author of Secrets of the Super Mom series and “a Houston-area resident whose home was spared hurricane damage,” who said that “As a parent, I want my kids to understand just how fortunate we are and how important it is to give back.”
Undeniably, many people need a helping hand right now, and World Gratitude Day, an event dating back to the 1960s celebrated each year on 9/21, creates a timely tie-in, especially with the number of nations recently affected. Depending on your family’s response to these disasters, be sure to enlist kids’ involvement and participation. Can they relinquish some toys or clothing for kids their age who have lost everything? Or go shopping to pick out some items? Can they empty their piggy banks or donate their allowance?
Of course, it’s also important to quell kids’ anxiety as much as possible. In 2015, healthychildren.org, sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics, provided excellent guidance for “Talking to Children About Disasters,” along with links to additional articles and resources. The article emphasizes that “No matter what age, start by asking children what they already know and what questions they have and use that as a guide for the conversation.” They also suggest that “In the aftermath of a crisis is a good time to disconnect from all media and sit down together and talk as a family.”
However, this resource also emphasizes honesty, advising that parents “Be sure to ask children what questions or concerns they have. Often they have fears based on limited information or because they misunderstood what they were told. Reassure children when able to do so, but if their fears are realistic, do not give false reassurance.”
In times of adversity, we see people helping other people regardless of differences and asking nothing in return, making it among the most precious lessons we can share with kids.