Because our children are exposed to television and other media, it is important that we teach them how to cope with the news about disasters such as the Gulf Oil Spill, Hurricane Sandy or a local home burning down.

By definition, disasters are overwhelming and difficult for all of us to understand.  How do we explain the images and sound bites from disasters to our children who seem to overhear everything? Here are some tips:

•    Take into account your child’s age and developmental stage. While a toddler may only need to know that their family and home are safe, preschool and kindergarten children may have lots of other questions.

•    Faced with startling images and sound bites, young children need to enjoy what is stable in their environment.  Take them to neighborhood parks and enjoy exploring the bugs in the backyard.  They need to not have anxiety about the disaster but understand that adults are working on the problem.

•    Answer your child’s questions and concerns.  Let your child take the lead in the conversation and don’t try to overload him or her with details that may be too complicated; this can increase anxiety. Research together to find answers.

•    The goal of any discussion needs to be informational and helpful to the child. There are a lot of helpful resources out there; one excellent source about the Gulf Oil Spill is the National Wildlife Federation website.

•    Try to keep your emotions stable as you talk with your child.  You may have some strong feelings about the disaster and/or the way the relief effort is going. But remember, parental anxiety and frustration is contagious and not helpful to children.

•    Try to be positive about the work being done to prevent future disasters.  Let’s keep our children optimistic: we need that!  Find simple ways for them to be a part of the solution such as donating spare change to the local fire department or wildlife refuge.

By Ellen D. Begley, RN, NCC, LPC – Ellen is a registered nurse as well as a licensed and national board certified counselor. She has a private practice that serves children ages 2 to 18 and has over 18 years of experience counseling children and educating parents.