The effects of hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and other natural disasters will be felt by young children in the affected areas for a long time to come. Try to clear up any confusion children might have and answer their questions with sensitivity.
Reports of natural disasters can spark an excessive fear for family safety in some young children. Listen for comments or questions from the children in your program about what’s going on. The best way to find out what they have heard is to listen for any fears or worries expressed directly, through drawings, or through play. It’s important to listen to each child carefully and tailor discussions to each little one’s worries. When responding, consider not only the child’s age but also how sensitive or easily scared the child is in general.
Younger children (under age 8) have trouble distinguishing make-believe from reality, especially since they see both on TV. Some images can be frightening and seem extremely close to home, even if they are actually far away. Discourage parents from watching these events on television when their children are awake.
If any children seem afraid as a result of having seen these images, acknowledge their very real fears and reassure them that they and the rest of their families are safe. Explain that natural disasters are rare and that there is very little chance that your town will be affected by a similar event. Answer questions honestly, calmly, and clearly, but don’t go into unnecessary detail.
Tips for Teachers
- Children may have questions about the disaster that you don’t know the answers to. Respond by saying, “That’s an interesting question. Let’s find the answer together.” Then, use your school or classroom library and/or the Internet to explore and research the answer.
- Take advantage of the opportunity to use children’s awareness of natural disasters, war, and violence as a springboard into larger topics, including the environment, tolerance, and non-violent options for resolving conflicts.
- Use your classroom globe or map to locate areas that are discussed and point out how far away they are. You can use these situations as an opportunity to help children learn more about natural events in different parts of the country.
- Be ready to discuss any of these topics again for those children who show concern.
Lending a Helping Hand
Natural disaster recovery is a long-term effort. Here are some organizations and efforts that your school community may want to get involved with:
- Habitat for Humanity assesses shelter and housing needs caused by natural disasters and partners with local and national organizations to build homes for families as part of recovery efforts. You can visit Habitat for Humanity's website to donate to a reconstruction project or volunteer to join a reconstruction crew.
- To offer housing (a spare bed, extra room, comfortable couch) to displaced victims, log on to MoveOn.Org.
- Check Feeding America's website for ways to donate food, money, or time.
- Donate to the American Red Cross disaster relief efforts.
- Check news sources for ways to donate directly to local charities and organizations that are assisting recovery efforts.
- Learn more about how to help the victims cope with trauma, and encourage your senators and representatives to take action to help natural disaster victims.
- Natural Disaster Preparedness from American Academy of Pediatrics
- American Psychological Association
- Helping Children and Adolescents Cope with Violence and Disasters from The National Institute of Mental Health