Parenting and Natural Disasters

I hope everyone had a great 4th of July!  Mine was spent at a small resort town, where as with most towns, a highlight for everyone is the big fireworks display.  We did our best to prep my 3 year old cousin for the event, including talking with her about what she could expect (loud lights, big “booms”), and giving her earplugs.  Despite our best efforts, she still found the big “booms” terrifying, and had to retreat into the house with her mom.  Some of you may have experienced a similar situation with your children this 4th.

If such a beautiful display of lights can cause such fear and angst for a child, imagine what feelings a natural disaster could evoke.  In line with this month’s podcast about natural disasters, I wanted to highlight a few important steps that parents can take to help their children in the event of a natural disaster.

  1. Let your children know that you are there to keep them safe.  Let them know you are still a family, you will still provide a safe environment, and you will make it through this.
  2. Ask your children what they’ve seen, what they’ve heard, and how they feel about it.  Children will need a chance to discuss their feelings.  Listen to them, reassure them of their safety, and give them lots of hugs and love.  You will likely need to revisit the topic multiple times, as the information, understanding, and feelings children have about the event will change and need to be discussed.  It can also be helpful for you and/or your children to speak with a grief counselor.
  3. Maintain routines or rituals.  Maintaining activities that provide a sense of security and comfort can help your children cope with the events.  For example, eating dinner together or reading a book before bed can help children feel a sense of normalcy and comfort.

What questions do you have about helping your child cope with natural disasters?

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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