Go Ask Mom

Go Ask Mom

Some tips on how to talk to kids about natural disasters

Posted March 14, 2011 8:30 p.m. EDT
Updated March 14, 2011 10:27 p.m. EDT

The newspaper is a morning ritual at our house. And my daughter, for years now, has glanced through the pictures, usually landing on the sports section and asking me if "Carolina won."

When there is a photo of a tragedy somewhere - a car accident, a natural disaster, war deaths - she sometimes asks me what happened. I've been able to gloss over the details, explaining that there was an accident or disaster, but people were there to help now and maybe we could help in some way ... and let's check out that sports section to see how the Tar Heels did.

That worked until about a month ago when I gave her my same line as she looked at a photo for a story about a murder and she, now 6, asked me: "Well then why does it say 'kill?'" She can read now. Really well. And I can't gloss over all the details anymore.

So we've been having some discussions in the last few days about last week's devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan. She's read about earthquakes and tsunamis in a book she has about the weather to understand what they are and why they happen.

Still, I wonder how much information is too much. And I suspect that a few of you are wondering the same thing. So I found some links with some tips and advice on the issue. The main points: Talk to your kids on their level. Be honest and open to their questions. And don't let them watch frightening images on TV over and over again.

And the links:

NYU Child Study Center


American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

And if you're able to help the victims, for information.

I can't remember where I read this piece of advice. It was a few months ago now. And I'd forgotten it until this weekend, but it has come in handy. The tip: After a tragedy such as this, get outside with your kids. Admire the blooming daffodils, buds on the trees and blue skies. Point out to your kids that while horrible things do happen, there still is beauty here on Earth.