How to Speak with Children About Disasters

Keys to turning traumatic experiences into learning and shared experiences.

By Débora Montesinos, HIPGive contributor

The fact that boys and girls of today have access to an impressive amount of information is no secret.

That the majority of the information that they receive be positive would be desirable, but what happens when the truth is mixed with inaccurate or false information?

Small children can experience a distortion of the facts, which in turn can have a negative impact on them, resulting in their experiencing fear, uncertainty, and insecurity.

The experience can be traumatic when children are exposed to shocking or harsh images of the tragedies caused by natural phenomena or by humans.

Dr. Christopher Bellonci, Medical Director of The Walker Home and School, designed a list of some keys that can be very useful for helping children understand and process disasters.

The recommendations are so valuable that UNICEF itself is sharing them in order to reach the greatest number of educators and parents. Here are some of the most relevant:

  1. Any disaster, natural or man-made, is frightening for both children and adults.
  2. Talking is one of the best ways to give children confidence. Give yourself time to listen to the little ones and let them share their fears.
  3. It is always desirable to avoid underestimating the hazard. False information can create an opposite effect, far from reality.
  4. It is important for adults to convey a message about how normal it is to feel different emotions: sadness, worry, and fear. In this way, children will feel comfortable talking about what they feel.
  5. Adults should remember that children need attention and time. So it is important for boys and girls to feel confident that they can turn to them, even in the midst of a disaster.
  6. Society as a whole reacts to disasters, and it is important that, from an early age, children are encouraged to show interest in support and solidarity, as well as, receiving information from preventative programs.