Friday 11th , 2013
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Over the last few months, this post has focused on earthquake safety- what to do (or not to do) in a quake, how to prepare your home, how to prepare your family plan, which are all very important things.  One thing we haven’t talked about yet is how to talk to your kids after a natural disaster that directly affects your family.  This is a tough thing for parents.  In addition to ensuring the general safety of your family, putting the pieces back together after this kind of disruption, not to mention coping yourself with how your life might have changed, you also need to provide extra comfort and support to your children who can also be greatly affected by disaster.

There is no one way to talk about disaster with your kids, as mothers and fathers, you know your child better than anyone else, and to a certain extent your child’s reaction and personality should inform your conversation with them.  There are some common pieces of advice, however, from sources ranging from the American Association of Pediatrics to the National Association for the Education of Young Children   to the Association of Children’s Museums that can be helpful to parents.

One of the greatest needs of children after a disaster is to feel safe.  This is often times the most challenging need to fulfill given all the unknowns after a disaster.  As most of us know, our kids are HIGHLY attuned to their parents every word, action, and attitude.  This doesn’t change after a disaster, so if you are visibly stressed out, angry, or upset, your child is going to pick up on that and it will affect them.  Channel your super-human self and let your kids know that you are there for them, and that you love them.   Extra cuddling, family time, and conversation helps kids who may be feeling a lot of stress. (Let’s be real- extra cuddling, family time and conversation probably helps all of us with stress!)  You shouldn’t deny that something happened, but keep it age appropriate and reassure them that you will be there for them and will do everything you can to keep them safe.   Try as much as humanly possible to return to a sense of normalcy- routines are important.

Talk to kids about the disaster is important too.  Acknowledge what happened and encourage your kids to talk about it, if they want to, and ask questions.  Work with them to express how they are feeling.  If your child doesn’t want to talk, they may be more comfortable drawing pictures or writing about it if they are old enough.  They might ask questions over and over, be patient.  Information might be difficult for them to accept or understand and having you respond again and again could be reassuring to them.  

One thing that should not play a role in any talk of the disaster with your kids is the television or other media.  News coverage can be quite traumatic and disturbing to children of all ages, as well as adults.  If your kids are exposed to media coverage of the disaster, talk about it with them.  Watch the news after they are asleep or go online to keep abreast of the situation.

It is common for kids to respond emotionally and physically to a stressful situation.  Sleep and appetite changes could occur, and clinginess, moodiness, anger and hyperactivity are all common responses.  Typically these signs of stress disappear after a few weeks, but if not, do seek the help of your pediatrician.

There are many more resources available online to help parents help their children cope with disaster: NAEYC, the Association of Children’s Museums, and the American Academy of Pediatrics all are great places to start.  Remember, taking some time to prepare now will make it easier on you to get through as tough situation.


Blog Entry by:

Lauren Kaye, Senior Operations Manager, has worked at Kidspace Children’s Museum since 2007.   Her current focus includes safety, facilities management, exhibits, and technology.  Her favorite exhibit at the museum is the Observation Beehive.