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Talking to Kids About Traumas and Disasters

Talking to Kids About Traumas and Disasters

In the movie Into the Storm, a tornado devastates a high school community. As the townspeople work to rebuild their connections, they find hope and security. Good for them. But in the real world, with all the deadly storms and tragic shootings that have happened lately, many parents are struggling to help their children cope. Fortunately, there are effective ways to help your kids deal with it all.

Whether a disaster or trauma has happened to your family or is in the news, the Red Cross and FEMA suggest limiting children’s exposure to media coverage of events and listen carefully to your kids’ worries.  

Kids under age five
They may have nightmares or even regress and start bed-wetting or thumb-sucking. Don’t be critical. Offer reassurance that the family is now safe. Don’t replay blow-by-blow info on the disaster.

Children 5 to 11
They may become aggressive or withdraw from normal activities. Give them time to find the words to express their feelings. Reassure them that you’re there for them.

Teens
They may rebel, opt for risk-taking behaviors, have trouble sleeping. Listen; ask about their feelings. Patience!

FEMA also suggests that, as a family, you create a disaster plan to assure kids you’re prepared, come what may.

Other resources

  • Download: Check out the free app Helping Kids Cope from the UCLA National Center for Child Traumatic Stress; available on iTunes or the Google Play Store.
  • Tune in: Sesame Street—in coordination with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation—is working to help kids handle disasters.
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