Kids Understanding Disaster: An Age-by-Age Guide

Whether it’s the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it seems there’s always some terrible disaster happening in the world. And, thanks to the 24-hour news cycle and the Internet, your kid can be easily overexposed to these horrific words and pictures.

Depending on age, personality and developmental stage, kids will react differently and have different concerns. So understanding your own kids’ mindset will help you decide how much to say and how much information to give. Here’s an age-by-age guide to what your child may be experiencing:

Toddlers are too young to understand what’s going on. However oblivious they might be to current events, they do pick up on emotional cues from YOU. If mommy or daddy looks sad, scared or upset, they can get that way too. So the best thing is to try not projecting your feelings onto them and keep calm around them.

Preschoolers are beginning to understand the basics of what is happening around them, but haven’t really formed any emotional connection to events that don’t involve them personally. Again, they tend to pick up emotional cues from mommy and daddy, too. So, if you can, avoid public displays of fear and grief in front of them, so they won’t feel any effect of the tragedy.

Big kids begin to understand current events, and are more likely to be exposed to the media that covers it. Kids may become anxious, experiencing fears of personal safety. These youngsters want to know, “Can this happen here?” “What will happen to me?” Provide lots of reassurance. Don’t tell your kids that disasters can’t happen, if indeed, the possibility exists. Let them know how you are prepared, and discuss plans for evacuation, etc.

Tweens/Teens are just beginning to question their own existence, so when something terrible happens, they may struggle with the spiritual and humanitarian issues. Things like death and destruction can confuse them and question why God would allow such horrible things to happen. Tweens and teens need to be allowed to vent their frustration, share their emotions, and have their feelings heard. So listen to them. Just listen. It’s fine to share your similar concerns if you have them, and discuss ways that you might be able to contribute, donate or volunteer to help relief efforts.

Leave a Comment