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Helping Children Cope with the Unexpected

​This information is included in our Guide to Parenting through Crisis. Clic​k here to see the rest of the guide.

When earthquakes, floods, tornadoes and other natural disasters hit, the randomness and depth of the destruction can leave many children emotionally and physically shaken.

Major disasters can dominate conversations and the news for weeks. Sometimes the information is helpful. Other times it can be inaccurate and inappropriate. Your children will likely form opinions and feelings about what’s happened based on what they see and hear. Misinformation about a disaster and its aftermath or misunderstanding what happened can heighten their anxieties.    

  • In difficult times, you can ease your child’s stress by doing the following:  
  • Limit media exposure. Don’t obsess over the latest breaking news or inject the situation into every family conversation. Keep children away from news programs and websites that contain content that is inappropriate for their age. 
  • Talk with your children… and soon. It’s likely your children will already be aware of what happened, so it’s important to find out what they know and how they’re feeling. Let them express their emotions and try not to tell them how they should feel. There is no right or wrong way to feel.
  • Stick to the facts. Your children may hear exaggerated or embellished versions of what happened. Don’t feed into the hysteria or the fear. Use concrete terms and be brief, like you are reading about a world event from the newspaper.
  • Give your children a chance to ask questions. If they have difficulty communicating their feelings, encourage them to communicate in a way that works best for them – journaling or drawing, for example. 
  • It’s okay to show vulnerability. Your children learn through experiencing and watching. They can learn how to cope simply by seeing how you grieve and manage during difficult times.
  • Continue normal routines. Routines can be comforting and help bring back a sense of normalcy.
  • Remember, children are resilient. Most kids can bounce back and work through challenges. If they continue to function well at home and in school, that’s a healthy sign.

If you notice changes in your child’s routine (sleeping or eating) or his or her behavior starts regressing (toileting accidents) with no improvement after several days or weeks, consult your pediatrician or contact the Boys Town National Hotline for assistance, resources and referrals in your area.

For additional advice, help and resources on parenting through a crisis situation, contact the Boys Town National Hotline at 1-800-448-3000. Trained counselors are available 24/7.

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