How to Talk to Your Kids About Hurricanes and Other Natural Disasters

Have your kids heard about Hurricane Irma or Hurricane Harvey? I hope so.

I really hope they haven’t heard because you or anyone you love was harmed or even in danger. I want them to know because this storm and all the others teach our kids about responsibility and resilience.

Responsibility is preparation, is evacuation or sheltering-in-place, is paying attention to and tracking the weather and doing the repairs and work that are necessary to protect one’s home and loved ones for the weather that will come our way. We all have weather risks – it might be from wildfire or from blizzard or flooding or excessive heat. Weather must be respected and we shouldn’t shield our kids – we should involve them.

Prep your home and your family by having an emergency plan and at least twice a year conversations about what you’re doing to be safe. Involve all the kids in getting ready – they each need to know what weather concerns are most likely where you live and what to do in case of power outages or other rare but totally possible situations.

For families dealing with the current situation or the aftermath of something recent here are three messages you can keep in mind when talking with your kids:

  1. Lives are the top priority. You’ll make the best decisions you can, and place the value of life way above the value of stuff – even important stuff.
  2. They can help, at any age. Whether it’s by taking on an assigned role – like keeping a crated pet company, or helping board windows or playing board games with younger kids – everyone pulls together and everyone needs to listen to the family member in charge without arguing.
  3. Let’s talk about “why” later. When things happen that are out of our control, we all have questions about why it’s happening. Those are important and meaningful conversations, if only for our kids to realize that we don’t have all the answers either, but it’s OK to postpone those conversations for when everyone feels safe and a little more calm.

In the meantime, adults please remember:

Accept kids’ feelings as valid. Telling kids “don’t be scared” or “there’s nothing to worry about” only makes US feel better. Instead, mirror back “I hear you feel scared. What can we do right now that might help you feel more calm?” You might play a game or sing a song or hug or say a prayer or talk about life on other planets. Validating emotions and then moving towards a positive action teaches resilience and will likely help you both feel better.

Why should you talk to kids of all ages in all places about natural disasters? Three great reasons:

  1. Something will happen sometime. People don’t usually like to talk about things we can’t control, I get that. However, not mentioning it will not protect them, the reverse is true.
  2. We need to be our kids’ best, first expert. When they’re worried we want them to come to us. Talking to kids will give them less anxiety, not more.
  3. We can teach them resilience!

Resilience is cleaning up after the storm, it’s fixing something to be the way it was but a little better. It’s also suffering a loss and then taking a deep breath and finding a way through. After weather damage, we move forward. And that is an incredible analogy for life.

We can’t possibly protect our kids from every bad thing that will happen to them. So we must teach them how people recover. That is our obligation and our privilege.

And for those that are not in harms way, the next time you see storm coverage on the aftermath of a hurricane – or flood, or fire, or… – call your children in to see, too. “Wow, what do you think they should do next?”

Do you have any important parenting related questions? Type your question into the box onAskDoctorG.com. Also, be sure to follow me on TwitterFacebook and subscribe to my YouTube channel where I address parenting challenges from teen dating to manners.

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