Sept. 11, Hurricane Katrina, Haiti and now Japan. As much as we'd like to prevent them, catastrophic disasters occur. And as much as we'd like to protect our kids from the news about such tragedies, more often than not, they hear enough from news snippets and pieces of adult conversation to know that something terrible has happened.
According to the American Red Cross, it's better to talk to kids directly about disasters than to try to hide what's going on:
"You should not worry that talking about disasters will make children fearful. On the contrary, children are usually more frightened by what is whispered or not mentioned aloud than by matter-of-fact discussion."
So how can you talk to your kids about disasters without scaring them?
Be open, be honest, be comforting, and most importantly, be age-appropriate. Your toddler may guess that Mommy and Daddy are sad when they watch the news, but she probably doesn't need to hear all of the terrible details about what is happening in Japan right now. Instead, you can just confirm that something sad did happen and reassure her that she and her family are safe.
Once kids hit school-age though, it is more than likely that they will hear details about the news from teachers and friends, so it's better to prepare them with the truth so they don't become frightened by rumors. Talk about what happened and be prepared to answer any questions your grade-schooler may have about the tragedy.
It's also a good idea to monitor screen time (computer, television and smartphone) immediately after a disaster occurs so your kids don't become overwhelmed with the news coverage of the incident.
It would be wonderful if there never was another disaster like Sept. 11, 2001, or the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan. But the odds are that there will be. We can only protect our kids from the news for so long. Sooner or later, we have to prepare them to hear about it.