Helping Kids Understand Difficult Disasters

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The following article is relevant, not just to help our children understand the current flooding catastrophe in Western Canada, but any time fire, tornadoes or other disasters hit close to home.

Credit to Julie Freedman Smith and Gail Bell, authors of this excellent advice, as written for the Calgary Herald. Julie and Gail are writers, parenting coaches, and founders of Parenting Power.


No matter how you’ve been affected by the Alberta flood, if you’ve got kids, they’ve been affected too. Here are five quick tips to consider as we all move forward during this overwhelming and unbelievable time:

1. Kids (and adults) like it when things stay the same and are predictable. Do what you can to keep things consistent. Even if you aren’t in your home or in charge of your schedule right now, you can talk about what you do know:

  • We are safe.
  • We have people who love us.
  • We will work together to make the best of this.

2. Our adult experiences define our level of fear and worry. Don’t assume that you know what they are thinking. When sharing news with kids, use facts and keep them age specific. Start by asking what they already know. That way, you can clarify mistakes and edit how much information you give them.

3. The pictures coming out of this situation are awe-inspiring. Be aware of how much you are talking about “how awful” this is. Kids may build on that fear. Remind them there are lots of people working to help the situation and that in time, it will be better.

4. Share your feelings and support those of your children. This is a scary time and we are feeling a bit worried. It’s easy to be scared but we want you to know we are a team and we know that we can discuss our concerns and figure out a plan to help. Let’s also be thankful for what we have. If you are scared or worried, you can always talk to us about how you’re feeling. We’ll help you know how things will work out okay. It’s not your job to protect us or keep us happy.

Talking about fears, “what-ifs” and worst-cases can be good because it gets those ideas out of heads and onto paper. From there, you and your kids can work together to make plans for those eventualities or rule them out completely.

5. Don’t worry about making or keeping everyone happy. Exhaustion, fear, sadness and many other emotions will be running high. The best way through an emotion is out the other side, so rather than denying the emotion, acknowledge it: You seem scared. Cry out your feelings and that feeling will pass. Do you want to draw a picture about this?

At Arete, we echo Julie and Gail’s closing sentence: Our prayers and thoughts are with everyone. Be well.

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