When Disasters Strike: How to Talk to Your Child

When Disasters Strike: How to Talk to Your Child2017-10-11T15:00:57+00:00

Project Description

Ambulance parked outside of an Emergency Departmet

by Donna Venezio, LCSW

“How do I explain this to my child? As a parent, I am here to protect them.”

When reports of violence and tragedy fall on young ears – helping kids process disturbing events in the media is critical to their mental health.

Parents naturally want to shield their children from disturbing news images and stories until their kids are emotionally mature enough to handle them.

However, that has become nearly impossible as terrorist attacks, natural disasters and mass shootings stream 24/7 on sharable video, audio and online news sources, which are mostly designed for adult audiences.

Reports on incidents from child abductions to acts of war can traumatize children and make them view the world as a threatening and unsafe place. Knowing that the news is everywhere, parents need to be prepared to talk to children who have seen disturbing events that may not be age-appropriate.

So, what can you do as a parent to help your kids to cope with distressing information?

Even adults can be deeply affected by events in the news. It’s important to let children know that their feelings are normal. For example, if your child is concerned about news of an earthquake, tell him or her, “I understand why you feel upset about that.”

Then explain that these events are rare and reassure them by going over what you do in your own home in the case of natural disasters, such as keeping supplies handy and predetermining a family meeting place.

No parent can monitor a child at every moment. But, be aware of what your child is watching on TV, hearing on the radio or viewing online as much as possible. If you are uncomfortable with the content of a program or site, turn it off or block it.

Regularly discussing current events as a family in age-appropriate ways lets your children know that your home is a safe place to talk about what they hear in the news, and it helps them to develop critical thinking skills.

Not all news is bad news. If your children are accustomed to engaging in discussions on current topics, it will be easier for them to come to you when the news turns bad. And, your children are much better off with you guiding how they process the information than if that is left to the media alone.

“It is normal for children to feel sad or scared when disturbing events occur.”



Here are some tips on how to guard your child’s emotional and mental health in a 24-hour news world:


If your child brings up a distressing news event, it is best to first get a solid understanding of what your child does and does not know. Start by asking him or her, “What do you know about that?”


Honesty is crucial to making children feel safe. But, there is no need to go into excessive details that your child is not ready to understand. Usually, just a few sentences are enough.


If a child asks about an event, such as a robbery or shooting, ask “How are you feeling about that?”

Talk frequently with your children about current events. Keep an eye on what your child watches and hears.

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