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How to Talk to Your Kids about Disasters

SESAME WORKSHOP's Resource Kit for "Helping Families After an Emergency"

It’s hard to see images and videos of the tornado damage in Oklahoma and Texas and not think about what that would be like closer to home. So many of my family and friends are educators and I have a child in an elementary school. As a parent, it’s incredible to imagine the sort of fear and devastation felt by so many this week as they rushed schools searching for their family.

With such widespread coverage, it will be challenging – if not impossible – to shelter our young children from seeing the destruction. It’s important to help children, regardless of their age, to process these tragic events. Be open to questions. Let your children know it’s okay to ask questions. Speak simply and factually. When they ask about whether or not that will happen to them, have a plan. Go over the safety routes and plans for your home and classroom in the event of fire or tornado. Practice the plans. Explain that while bad things happen and things change, having a plan can help your family stay safe.

To help you through that process, Sesame Workshop has a fantastic resource for families, Here for Each Other: Helping Families After an Emergency. In it they offer great advice on how to talk to your children about what has happened. They’ve even broken it down into developmental age groups.

Let your children know that even when something bad happens, there are a lot of people available to help – people from their communities like firemen and police as well as groups like the American Red Cross. Social media has been abuzz over the past few days with the message to donate $10 to the American Red Cross by texting REDCROSS to “90999” and give blood at your local donation station.

The Red Cross also has a Tornado App that will alert you in the event that a tornado watch or warning is in your area. It also has an “I’m Safe” button that will let your family know you’re okay during a disaster. The app is available for Android at Google Play and for Apple devices at the iTunes store for free.