As I continue to hear stories of loss and trauma – many involving children – and listen to the helicopters fly above transporting people to our hospital, I wanted to offer 10 quick reminders of how we can talk to children about disasters.
1. Be present with them and create a supportive environment where children know they can ask questions.
2. Give honest answers and information using words and concepts that are developmentally appropriate.
3. Listen, support, and VALIDATE their thoughts, feelings, and reactions. They need to know their concerns and questions are important.
4. Be reassuring but not unrealistic. This is an opportunity to remind children that scary things do happen but good people come to help and care for us.
5. Talk to your child and let them know your feelings, although be mindful of not breaking down in front of them. For example, “I am scared and sad, too, but we are together and safe right now.”
6. Remember children look and learn by watching us. Be mindful of the ways in which you are handling the situation, talking to other adults about it, and practicing self-care.
7. Limit their exposure to frightening images and scary stories.
8. Maintain some sense of routine and “normalcy”, even if you are evacuated or in a shelter. Try to eat meals, wake up, and go to bed at the same time, carrying out similar routines around meals and bedtime.
9. Know that children often personalize situations, worrying about their own safety, home, and family. Be patient, listen, and reassure them.
10. Watch for physical symptoms including stomachaches or headaches as these can be signs of anxiety.
When we are able to offer supportive environments for our children and communities, we fare better.