How to Talk to Children About Natural Disasters

Talking to children about natural disasters is important for them to be informed and feel safer and accompanied. Discover some guidelines in this regard.
How to Talk to Children About Natural Disasters
Elena Sanz Martín

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist Elena Sanz Martín.

Last update: 27 December, 2022

Depending on the region of the planet where you live, it’s more or less likely that you and your children will be exposed to extreme natural phenomena. However, in a globalized world like ours, news travels fast and crosses borders. For this reason, it’s important that we’re prepared to talk to children about natural disasters, whether they’ve experienced them first-hand or have learned about them through different media.

These types of phenomena can occur in a wide variety of ways: Hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, floods, fires, earthquakes, or tsunamis, among others. In all cases, enormous material and human losses can occur and a strong psychological impact is created, not only on the survivors but also, to a lesser extent, on the rest of the population.

Children can be especially vulnerable to emotional effects due to misinformation and lack of personal resources. As such, parental guidance and support are critical.

Keys to talking to children about natural disasters

Having these types of conversations isn’t easy. We may wonder how much information to give our children and how to communicate it. It can also be confusing to know how to accompany them and help them manage their feelings about it. For this reason, we propose a series of useful keys.

Offer truthful information

Whatever the case, a basic premise is never to lie to children or hide information from them. We do have to select the right words and tone, but they need to know what’s happening or what has happened and how it will affect them. In case they’ve seen a news item, we have to explain clearly that we can all suffer from natural disasters, but that there are preventive measures and that at that moment, they’re safe.

In case they’ve lived the event in the first person, they have to know what has happened and why, and know what’s going to change from now on. They may have to move or live without electricity and water in their homes for a while. If someone close to them has been affected, it’s important to explain to them how they’re doing and what their prognosis is.

A father taling to his son about a difficult subject.
Lying, hiding, and offering false hope is counterproductive, as it won’t only not prevent pain, but will generate distrust.

Keep in mind the age of your child

The information a child should receive depends very much on their age. Younger children will only be able to assimilate part of what happened, so it’s enough to explain what happened and how it will affect them. Older children may want to dig deeper and get more details to better understand; in either case, pay attention to the pace of the conversation.

You can start by asking what your child knows about the subject and then clarify or expand on the information. Also, make sure that they can raise all their doubts and fears. This is an opportunity to disprove false information that may be alarming them for no reason.

Encourage emotional expression

When talking to children about natural disasters, it’s essential to give space for their emotions. Children can be very fearful of the possibility of these events, especially between the ages of 8 and 10, as this is a developmental fear. Expressing it and being able to communicate with their parents about it are a great help to them.

All the more so, if you’ve experienced a natural disaster first-hand, it’s logical that feelings of anguish, anger, fear, or sadness will arise, both in children and adults. As parents, it’s important that we manage our own emotional state before talking to our children, otherwise, we may transmit excessive alarm and hopelessness.

When we feel able, we should accompany the child in managing their own emotions, let them see how we feel (without appearing devastated or out of control) and ask them how they’re feeling. We can help them to put their emotions into words and offer calm and comfort to deal with this state.

Encourage a feeling of control and security

The perception of uncontrollability is one of the factors that makes it more likely that an event of this type is experienced as a trauma. Therefore, it’s key to foster a sense of control and security to some extent. We can explain to the child that nature isn’t evil, it doesn’t attack us or seek to harm us; that natural disasters do occur, but there are ways to prevent their damage.

We can also talk to them about the importance of caring for the environment or give them some recommendations for action in the event of a natural disaster. In addition, they should know that there are specialized services that can help us if that happens.

Encourage collaboration and belonging

Finally, when talking to children about natural disasters, we can encourage them to actively collaborate as much as possible. If the phenomenon has occurred far away, it may be possible to send clothes, food, or contribute financially to the victims. On the other hand, if it has taken place in the community, this collaboration will be easier.

A child carrying his belongings in a cardboard box.
Community activities and volunteering are good strategies to address these issues with children. Also, to find a useful way to channel the emotions that these critical phenomena awaken in us.

Be careful with the media when talking to children about natural disasters

Although talking to children about this type of catastrophe is necessary, it’s important to be careful with the content that they consume and that comes to them from the media. It’s not healthy for minors to spend the day receiving this type of unpleasant news and discovering lurid details. Much less that they’re exposed to explicit images.

When children are young, avoid putting the news in their presence and find the right way to present the information to them. Older children and adolescents can have access to all kinds of content through the Internet, so we’ll have to reinforce communication so that they can express themselves about what they’ve seen and try to make them aware of the importance of avoiding certain content to protect their mental well-being.

In short, when dealing with this topic with your children, try to be patient and empathetic. Offer information, but at the same time allow them to express themselves. Tell them the truth, but in an appropriate manner and, above all, remind them that they’re loved and will always be cared for.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Kushner, M. G., Riggs, D. S., Foa, E. B., & Miller, S. M. (1993). Perceived controllability and the development of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in crime victims. Behaviour research and therapy31(1), 105-110.
  • Pérez-Grande, M. (2000). “El Miedo y sus Trastornos en la Infancia: prevención e intervención educativa”. Aula, revista de Pedagogía de la Universidad de Salamanca. Vol. 12: 123-144.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.