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Tips for Parents
Talking to Children About Hurricane Katrina and Other Natural Disasters

Even if your child doesn't watch news programs or read the newspaper on a regular basis, he has most likely heard about Hurricane Katrina. Overheard conversations and rumors at school can lead to exaggerated and inaccurate ideas about what's going on in the world. To help you have meaningful, age-appropriate conversations with your children, Scholastic offers the following tips:

Reassure, reassure, reassure
Your number one role is to provide reassurance and comfort. You should appear calm, containing any of your own anxieties and fears. Children, especially young ones, can pick up vibes from you and become more worried.

Listen up!
Listen for comments or questions about what's going on and begin the conversation there. By doing more listening than talking, you will find out what your kids fear most, as they express many of their concerns and anxieties in daily conversation. Incorporate these concerns, questions, and opinions into your family discussions.

Tailor discussions of the news to children's ages and sensitivities
Younger children (under age 8) have trouble distinguishing make-believe from reality, especially since they see both on TV. If your child seems afraid, acknowledge her very real fears and reassure her that she and the rest of the family are safe. Explain that tragedies like natural disasters are rare events. Answer questions honestly, calmly, and clearly, but don't go into unnecessary detail.

Acknowledge your own feelings
It's a good idea to talk about your own feelings with your child so he knows that mommies and daddies also get scared or sad. Kids may be embarrassed by their feelings, and it can help a shy or reticent child to talk if he understands that emotions are nothing to be ashamed of.

Play an active role in interpreting the news
Children of all ages have instant access to information and images, so it's up to you to help make sense of it all. If possible, watch the news and read newspapers and magazines with your children so that you are on hand to answer questions and address fears. If the graphic nature of television news upsets your child, switch to reading the newspaper together. It's also a great way to build reading skills and can be done anywhere, anytime.

Take a time out
Depending on a child's age and sensitivities, or the nature of situation, it is sometimes best to limit or even avoid TV viewing, Internet access, and reading materials so that children are not repeatedly faced with upsetting images or ideas. Instead, spend time together reading books, playing with puzzles or doing crafts — children will benefit from the closeness, especially during tense times.

Seek out sources for news created especially for kids
As a parent you are not required to have all of the answers or know all of the background information on a specific incident. At Web sites like Scholastic News Online you can find age-appropriate information, articles, and activities on current events topics that are of interest to children.

Support kids' desire to learn more
Your child may have questions you don't know the answer to. Encourage further exploration by checking out books from the library, studying maps and globes, or searching the Internet to research the answer.

Make the school-to-home connection
Your child's teacher may require the class to follow current events, or talk of the news may just be interwoven with peer gossip. Talk to your child's teacher to find out what they are discussing in class. This way you can be prepared to answer questions that your child might have and you can continue the dialogue at home. It's also important to let your child's teacher know what concerns or sensitivities your child has expressed, as well as any family situations that might make a topic more personal.

Keep listening
Be open to listening and answering your child's concerns at all times. You may not be able to engage her in discussion or she may not want to watch the news with you, but she may ask a question about the news while you're doing your shopping or are just driving around. Be ready to discuss any topic again and often; one conversation isn't going to answer all of your child's ever-changing questions and concerns.

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