Tips for Teaching Children About Disasters

A father talking to his son about disasters

Tips for Teaching Children About Disasters

Disasters are scary—for children and adults alike. While preparing your child for a crisis may seem daunting, it is very important to help your child feel more secure during emergencies while potentially saving her life. Talking about disasters before they happen and teaching children basic preparedness skills can empower them to act appropriately in times of crisis.

Knowing what to do and understanding that adults are working to keep her safe will help your child feel more relaxed during a disaster. Help build upon your child’s natural resiliency by giving her knowledge and skills to keep her safe. Following are a few tips for talking to your little one about disasters:

Explain Why. From the start, let children know why it’s important to talk about disasters. For example, “Today, we are going to talk about emergencies so we can get ready and practice. This way, when or if an emergency happens, we know what to do to stay safe.” Repeat this theme of safety and wellbeing through the conversation, staying positive and on topic.

Be Honest. Give children information that is clear, accurate and age appropriate. Don’t lie. The truth is that disasters are dangerous and people could die, but don’t focus on death or destruction. Don’t give in-depth details or graphic examples that will confuse or disturb your child. Remember, you’re there to help your child stay safe. Find out what he knows and understands about different disasters before responding to his questions. This will help alleviate his distress and clear up confusion.

Listen. You can understand what your child already knows and needs to know about disasters by simply listening to her. Listen carefully to her thoughts and answers. Let her express her feelings in a safe atmosphere. A good way to do this is through emergency-themed storybook reading. While reading, children can respond to the character’s experience and knowledge rather than their own.

Be Reassuring. Children may experience stress when they do not understand what they perceive to be dangerous. Let your child know that disasters are scary and it’s okay to be afraid when thinking about emergencies. Let him know that you’re talking about disasters so that he can know what to do. Reassure him that during an emergency, many caring adults including parents, teachers and other caregivers will be working to keep him safe.

Limit Graphic Images. Although it’s okay to show examples of different types of disasters, avoid using graphic images or videos that show destruction. For younger kids, use animated images that may be less scary. During or following an emergency in the area, limit children’s exposure to news media that may scare or confuse them as it can seem like the disaster is happening over and over again.

Focus on the Learning. Children are curious and love learning new things through play, activities and reading. Rather than focusing on the destructive nature of disasters, focus on teaching your child what disasters are from an educational, exploratory perspective. Find ways to make it fun (e.g. crawling on the ground to practice your fire escape or using a Save the Children Prep Rally game). Tie the conversation into lessons about science, meteorology or first responders to make crisis preparation a learning experience.

Recognize Helpers. When disasters strike, let your little one know that there are many helpers who arrive on the scene—first responders, police and emergency medical services personnel will work to keep him safe. Use this as a lesson in compassion as you teach your child the importance of helping others who may be facing a crisis.

Say “I Don’t Know.” Children may ask questions to which you don’t know the answers. Don’t make up an answer. It’s okay to say that you don’t know and then offer to find an answer for them. As you and your child continue your conversation, you may use the many resources and tools available from Save the Children, the American Red Cross, FEMA and others.

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