Talking to Your Kids About Natural Disasters, War, and Violence

In the wake of tragic events, try to keep misinformation to a minimum, ask your child what he knows and answer his questions sensitively.



Talking to Your Kids About Natural Disasters, War, and Violence

Even if your child doesn't sit down and watch news programs or read the news, chances are that he hears about violent events. Overheard conversations or talk amongst peers can lead to misinformation about what's going on in the world and can spark an excessive fear for safety in children. Listen out for comments or questions your child has about what happened or what's going on, and begin your conversations there. If your child doesn't bring up the topic, the best way to find out what your child knows is simply to ask. A simple, "Did you hear about X?" or "Do you know what's going on with Y?" is a perfect way to spark a conversation.

  • Younger children (under age 8) have trouble distinguishing make-believe from reality, especially since they see both on the screen. Either way, some images can be frightening and seem extremely close to home. It's wise to limit a younger child's exposure to violence on TV in general. 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 school shootings or natural disasters are rare and that it's unlikely that your hometown will become a battleground. Answer questions honestly, calmly, and clearly, but don't go into unnecessary detail.
  • For older children (grades 3–8), use the following tips to help guide you:
  1. Watch the News With Your Child
    The easiest way to know and monitor what your child is exposed to is to sit down and watch the news together. Find a program that isn't overly sensational (try local news and weekend shows), and talk about what you see. It doesn't have to be a formal talk about the issues — in fact, that will probably bore your child. Instead, just let him comment on the images and stories as they appear. Discussing the news together will also allow you to gauge his reactions and decide whether he seems overwhelmed or if he's okay and wants to learn more. If the graphic visual nature of television news upsets him, switch to reading the newspaper together. It's also a great way to build reading skills and can be done anywhere, anytime.
  2. Find the Answers Together and Explore More
    Your child may have questions you don't know the answer to. Instead of making something up or simply saying you don't know, tell her, "That's an interesting question. Let's find the answer together." Then, when the show is over, open the encyclopedia or search the Internet to explore and research the answer. While you're investigating, give your opinions but don't state them as absolutes, so your child feels comfortable expressing her own feelings, even if they seem to contradict yours.
  3. Keep Up With the News at School
    Your child's teacher may require the class to follow current events as part of the curriculum, or talk of the news may just be interwoven with peer gossip. Ask him or his teacher about what is being discussed at school. Invite your child to tell you what schoolmates think and feel about current events. Use the microcosm of school to explain the world at large.
  4. Keep an Open Ear and Mind
    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; a kid's mind doesn't always make the most linear connections. Inquire why she is worried and if it isn't a convenient time to talk, tell her that you want to talk more about it later. Set a time so you make sure you remember and your child understands that it's important to you to talk with her. Also, respect her wishes if she doesn't want to talk at a certain time, and let her know she can revisit the discussion later.
Social Skills
Raising Kids
Age 10
Age 9
Age 8
Life Experiences
Natural Disasters
Social and Emotional Development
Wars and Military