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How to talk to children about natural disasters

How to talk to children about natural disasters

8-letna Mahi Omar sedi v svoji sobi v zasilnem stanovanjskem naselju v begunskem taborišču, ki se nahaja v predmestju Berlina, Nemčija.
© UNICEF/UN025296/Gilbertson

Tips from UNICEF for parents, educators, teachers and youth workers who are in direct contact with children.

1. Focus on the child, not the distress

First, check if the child wants to talk about the floods that have affected you (or other natural disasters). Let the children lead the conversation. Don’t pressure them or try to explain what happened, if they don’t want to discuss it.

Some children may be curious to talk about their worries, while others may find it difficult. Just remind them that they can talk to you and other trusted adults whenever they want.

Drawing, storytelling and other activities can help start the conversation. Do not reject or avoid their concerns, ideas, do not belittle their thoughts, ideas, suggestions for solutions – praise them: ‘interesting suggestion’ or ‘good thinking’, rather than evaluating their thinking or even mocking their way of thinking. Acknowledge their feelings and reassure them that it is natural to feel sad or scared about these things.

2. Be honest, explain the truth

Children have the right to know the truth about what is happening in the world, but adults are also responsible for protecting them from distress. Use language that is appropriate to their age, be attentive to their reactions, and be sensitive to their level of anxiety.

When explaining, look for resources that are adapted to children. Explain situations through children’s eyes, using safe images (avoid photographs of animal corpses or casualties) and understandable language.

If you don’t know the answer to their questions, use this as an opportunity to find the answers together.

3. Offer reassurance

Tell children that you love them and remind them that the adults in their lives are doing everything they can to keep them safe. You can show them positive, happy photos of firefighters or civil protection.

Plan to spend more time with them as they get past the distress and anxiety. Children are resilient and hopeful.

4. Help children return to their normal routine

We know from our work on the ground that it is extremely important for children affected by disaster to get back to playing and learning so that they can regain a sense of normalcy and routine. 

Help children regain a sense of normalcy by encouraging them to take part in activities they enjoy, such as playing with friends, reading and drawing.

5. Show them all the good people who are trying to help

It is important for children to know about the acts of courage, generosity and kindness of ordinary people who try to help families affected by natural disasters.

Sharing stories of volunteer first responders, community leaders and citizens who are selflessly helping the affected can be comforting and reassuring.

6. Show them how they can help

Talking to children and showing them how they can help others can empower them and is an important step in rebuilding their confidence. If you are going to donate to those affected by the floods, you can tell the child about it and explain the importance of helping each other.

7. Take care of yourself

You’ll be better able to help your children if you’re coping well too. Children will pick up on your own response to the news, so it helps them to know you’re calm and in control. If you are worried or upset, take some time for yourself and reach out to other family members, friends and trusted people in your community. If you need additional help, contact an organisation that provides psychosocial support. It is important to calm down, as this is the only way to help your child maintain balance and a positive outlook on life.

Find time, even just a moment, to do things you enjoy and join the children in their play. Together, maintain a positive atmosphere, as a pleasant atmosphere is extremely important for a child’s overall well-being.

What’s next?

Pay attention to children’s behaviour. Children often absorb information from their surroundings without adults even noticing. Be attentive to the child’s behaviour, responses, and perception, as well as any fears or expressed concerns. Regularly check on their feelings. They may express concerns about hunger or lack of drinking water while listening to a fairy tale, they may find it difficult to fall asleep, they may refuse to listen to certain fairy tales (in which disasters, floods, storms, etc., are present). With all the news and reports, children have gathered information that they find difficult to place into their everyday world. Give them time and provide support. Offer them a warm hug and ensure their sense of security.

Taken from:
How to talk to your children about natural disasters (unicef.org.au)

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