Oklahoma Tornadoes: Helping Your Kids Cope With Bad News

Carrie FitzsimmonsBy: Carrie Fitzsimmons
Public Relations Coordinator

Parents are once again faced with talking to their children about a tragic and frightening event after the massive devastation that resulted from the Moore, Oklahoma tornadoes on May 20, 2013. With many area families remembering the April 27, 2011 tornadoes that devastated our area, events like this can be very stressful and upsetting for everyone, especially young children. So, how do you talk to your children about natural disasters?

In our upcoming exhibit, The Magic Tree House Traveling Exhibit based on the Magic Tree House book series, Jack and Annie, the books’ main characters, witness a tornado as they travel back to the Prairie in the late 19th Century. The Exhibit features a storm cellar and Jack and Annie learn about the importance of preparedness. Opportunities like this exhibit and children’s books can be great conversation starters for parents to talk to their children about how to be prepared for natural disasters.

In the wake of heartbreaking events like the Oklahoma tornadoes, children can find comfort in books. Reading gives children a place to express how they feel about certain situations. Many times, children can relate to the characters in the books and reading opens up a dialogue for the parent to talk to their child about the situation.

Dr. David Fassler, an adolescent psychiatrist and spokesman for the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says that parents should “create an open and supportive environment where children know they can ask questions” when dealing with scary news. “Children will usually know if you are making things up, and that may affect their ability to trust you or your reassurances in the future,” he says.

Fassler also emphasizes the importance of limited television and Internet viewing, especially if your child is young. However, as parent, you should still assume your child knows what is going on and find ways to talk to them about how they are feeling.

Dr. Richard Besser, a pediatrician and chief health and medical editor for ABC News, emphasizes that the worst thing a parent can do is give their child false hope by promising events like this will never happen again. The coverage of tornados all over the country can make these disasters seem like a common occurrence, especially to younger children. Parents can emphasize that disasters like tornados are a rare event.

Instead, Dr. Besser recommends that you talk to your child about emergency preparedness. “Sit down as a family and talk about what you should do if there is any type of emergency in your community. Talk about what you can do to be prepared. This is very empowering, especially to a child who is afraid of what they just saw,” said Dr. Besser.

By bringing tough topics up with your child and reassuring them that everything is being done to assure their safety, children will learn to connect with you as their parent to navigate through tough situations.

Sources: ABC News, Talking to your children about natural disasters

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