Published On: Tue, Mar 18th, 2014

How To Talk To Your Kids About Disasters

Danielle Mantakoul

Danielle Mantakoul

BA of Ed Early Childhood and Editor at Mummy Weekly
She's described as one of the most engaging & dynamic speakers in the early childhood industry today, now having educated hundreds of thousands of parents & teachers. She has lectured for organisations such as KU Children’s Services, Only About Children, Qantas, National Australia Bank, Child Protection Australia, Goodstart and hundreds of council & private centres. She also developed and ran the popular parenting series for the Australian Financial Review.
Danielle Mantakoul

How to talk to your kids about disastersYesterday my daughter aged 8 came home and told me about an aeroplane that had crashed. I knew exactly what she was talking about and cringed at the thought that she knew. I asked her how she heard about it. “My friend told me” she exclaimed. “Did you know about it mum”? I paused and for some reason felt a sense of annoyance that it had not been me to deliver her such information, information that needed to be packaged in the right way.

I silently cursed the source of her friend’s knowledge. Mother, father, brother, it mattered not to me. I only knew that I was annoyed that someone had shared with such a young child these happenings.

I have always worked hard at protecting my children’s ears and in turn their minds. Helicopter parent you say? Maybe, but I feel strongly about sharing adult affairs with young kids, especially disasters where little brains can easily run away with thoughts on how this too may happen to them. A child’s world is so small, with them often relating events to themselves. This is where the danger lies in making kids unnecessarily fearful. It’s difficult for children to understand the isolation or rarity of an incident. These adult understandings can strike fear into young children where they make up their own gaps in information.

You are forgiven if you feel I am discouraging discussions with children about tragic world events, but my message is simple. Do not be the “instigator” in the discussion of such events with young children unless they question you. Some points to consider during this discussion and in general on how to help protect your child’s ears I have listed below.

Points to Consider

  • There is no doubt that social media plays a role here even with young children in spreading the news of disasters in 2.5 seconds flat. But just as we have the power to control what our kids watch on TV, we also have control over their viewings of social media while they are still young. For example, many parents use YouTube for entertainment. Be watchful of where they end up on the site.  In the car I used to listen to talk back radio, but found my kids questioning me about adult matters they would hear. Why did that robber do that? Did someone kill someone mum? Did a lady die? Did someone get shot. No more talk back radio for us.
  • As for TV, if the news is on, change it or turn the TV off. I recall once when my grandmother was visiting she liked to watch the news. A cruise ship had fallen onto it’s side and the pictures where certainly memorable. My daughter unknowing to me took this in, & two years later was horrified when I suggested we go on a family cruise, being able to recall in detail the pictures she had seen on TV.
  • Let your child know there are good people who are helping those that need it, that something is being done.
  • It is important to listen carefully to what they do know and to validate their thoughts and feelings about the event. You can assume they may know all the gory details, but maybe not. This will help to guide you when you do respond. Be honest while selective with your information. Talk simply and in a broad manner matching the child’s level. Your children don’t need the details so be selective in what you tell them. You want to avoid details that may create fear.
  • When your child walks away with this new information from your discussion, you may find it prompts further questioning once they have had time to think about it. Make time to answer these.
  • Reassure any concerns they voice and if they don’t, always try to end your disaster discussion with reassurance that they are okay.
  • If possible, you can give your child some control in the situation. Ask them if there is something they would like to do about it such as donate a little from their money box to help or to write a letter.
  • Ensure your child has an outlet to express themselves, not just in regards to disasters but generally in times of feeling unsettled. Painting, drawing, singing and even simply playing can release associated stress.
  • Watch what you’re saying infront of your child to other adults. “Oh my god did you hear about that boy who was murdered”? I am still hoping that my 7 year old is yet to know the definition of murder.

Children need the time to be children without being tainted with the bigger issues of the world. The disasters, murders, robberies. It’s our job as parents to judge when they are ready to receive such information and to slowly let a little more through the filters as they develop. In my opinion, kids in the early childhood stage being till 10 years of age are best served with not being deliberately exposed to it.

If you have any concerns, contact a mental health professional who can walk you and your child through it.

By Danielle Mantakoul
Copyright Mummy Weekly 2014
www.mummyweekly.com.au

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