Talking to Children About Disaster (Pt.1)

I grew up in an area of the country that has been called "Tornado Alley." My great grandmother was once blown through the air by a tornado and thankfully survived. A tornado recently devastated the small town where my father pastors and took the lives of some of his church members. As a child, I can remember crouching in fear as a tornado roared in the air above our house.

Fear and uncertainty obviously come when disaster strikes up close, but can also be felt from a disaster that happens somewhere else. Today, in Part 1, I want to discuss how to talk to children when they find out about a disaster that has happened somewhere else. These are tips you can share with parents and kidmin leaders in your ministry.

Know where children are coming from. They tend to personalize things. Will this happen to me? Will my house be destroyed? Will someone in my family be injured or killed? Will I lose all my belongings?

Be aware of kid's different personality types. Some children are more prone to be sensitive and fearful. Others will not pay as much attention to what is going on. Knowing the child's personality will enable you to more effectively help them.

Be sensitive to children who have previously been through a stressful situation such as divorce, death of a family member, or disaster. 
Reassure them that disasters are rare events and they are very safe in their home. 

Protect them from overexposure of the disaster through images on television, internet, or other media sources.  

Remember children will watch to see how you respond to the situation. If they sense you are stressed, fearful, or anxious, they will pick up on it and mirror that response. Remain as calm as possible.

Have open conversation. Ask questions and listen.
  • What did you hear?
  • Do you know what is going on?
  • Why are you worried?   
Under the age of 7, it is often best not to initiate a conversation about a disaster unless they become aware of it and bring it up. Answer questions calmly, clearly, and honestly, but don't go into details.

Remember it's okay to say, "I don't know." Find answers to their questions together. Use it as a teachable moment.

Be prepared to answer the same questions several times. Children will ask questions several times when something is hard to understand or they need reassurance.

Let them express their feelings. Ask them to write down or draw pictures of what they are experiencing.

Pray with the child.

Share God's promises with the child.

Get a copy of "Comforting Children in Crisis" by Group Publishing. I have given each of our staff members one of these books. It is full of great advice and tips on how to minister to children in times such as a disaster. I use it constantly when helping children and families.

Tomorrow I will be discussing Talking to Children About Disaster (Pt.2). I will be focusing on what to do when children are affected personally and directly by a disaster. See you then!

Posted by Dale Hudson