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Arkansas Tornado Emergency - Helping Kids Cope With the Disaster

Posted on 29 Apr 2014

Along with the rest of the state and viewers across the region, we’ve been devastated to see friends and family members suffer in the wake of Sunday’s tornadic disaster. In the aftermath of this severe weather event, how do we help our children process what they’re seeing or experiencing?

While, of course, our first priority is ensuring our families’ safety, now that the storm has passed, it is important that we all work together to create a comfortable and caring environment for kids. Emergencies can be overwhelming, particularly for young children, and we can start by communicating with our children and reassuring them that they are cared for and loved.

Give the Facts: Use simple words to explain what has happened. 

Pay Attention to Your Feelings: Children will look to you for a reaction and pick up on your emotions (which can be contagious), so it’s important to discuss how this event makes both of you feel.

Offer Comfort: Model behaviors of calm in front of your child; children often take their cues from their caregivers. Reassure children that what has happened is not theirs (or anyone else’s) fault, and that you will love and take care of them.

Listening and Talking: Follow kids’ leads. If they prefer not to talk, play together and spend time doing things they enjoy. If they express sadness, anger or fear, let them know that it’s okay to feel that way, and encourage them to continue sharing feelings through words or pictures.

Clear Up Confusion: At times, children get misinformation from friends or misinterpret adults’ conversations. If this happens, it’s important to address the confusion in a non-judgmental way. Answer questions, even repetitious ones, honestly and with simple words to make it clearer.

Discuss Your Child's Interpretation: Kids often view the world in simplistic terms — everything is good or bad, black or white. Rather than telling them they’re wrong, correct your children with your own right answer, and try to ask them specific questions. It encourages kids to elaborate on their ideas, make connections and think independently.

Try to Keep a Normal Routine: Children like consistency — as much as you can, try to stick with your daily routine. Encourage kids to engage in their everyday activities, like playing with blocks or reading a bedtime story, to help them feel calm and safe.

Spend Time Together: Simply being together can help your children feel safe! While you’re together, encourage the kids to do things that help them express their emotions, like drawing or singing.

Monitor Media Use: Seeing repeated images of a natural disaster and its damage can be troubling. Young children, especially, might even think that the event is happening over and over, in real time.

Pay Attention to Signs of Stress: Children often let us know something is bothering them through their behavior. Nightmares, bed-wetting, aggression, inattentiveness and clingy behavior are common among children who have experienced or been impacted by an emergency. If you notice these or similar signs, talk to a support professional.

Empower Your Children: If your child has been directly affected by an emergency, try giving him or her simple chores and responsibilities to help maintain a sense of control. Praise his or her efforts, too. Building self-confidence can make him or her feel proud!

Become a Helper: If your child has been indirectly affected by this emergency, encourage him or her to show compassion and help others; doing so will help him or her feel strengthened.

Inspire a Sense of Hope: Explain that while things may have changed, there are always people and places that help keep your family safe and comforted.


PUTTING IT INTO ACTION:

Find tips, games, videos and more to help you execute the steps listed above in the following PBS resources:

Sesame Street - Here for Each Other: Helping Families After a Tornado Emergency

Fred Rogers Company - Helping Kids With Scary News

PBS Parents - How to Help Kids Feel Safe

PBS Parents - Talking to Kids About News 

PBS Parents - Communications Strategies

PBS Parents - Talking and Listening

PBS Parents - Age-by-Age Insights: Talking About the News

PBS Parents - Work it Out Through Play

PBS Parents - Discussion Starters  

PBS Parents Adventures in Learning - Charity Starts at Home
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