Talking to Children About Disasters Can Reduce Fear and Anxiety


If you are a parent to a young child, did you wonder what he or she was thinking or feeling while you watched the weekend’s ongoing newscasts about the disastrous earthquake and tsunami in Japan? According to the American Red Cross, you should not worry that talking about natural disasters such as these will make children more fearful. On the contrary, discussing it ahead of time reduces fear and anxiety by allowing children to develop essential coping skills.

“The best way to handle a child’s curiosity – especially about difficult subjects – is to provide easy-to-understand, factual information,” says National Center for Family Literacy’s Vice President Emily Kirkpatrick. “Children are inundated with horrific pictures on the news, and it’s important for families to be able to discuss those fears as well as providing activities and outlets to escape the barrage of bad news.”

When the news displays events that children find scary or puzzling, use the opportunity for an age-appropriate teaching moment. Not only will talking about the event reduce fear, but the Red Cross also says that discussing natural disasters, particularly those that could most likely happen in your community, helps children learn how to prepare for, respond safely during, and recover from a disaster.


First, try to answer questions and address concerns with concrete, easy-to-follow information. For special lesson plans to help parents discuss the Japan tsunami, for example, the NCFL is offering pertinent, accurate information at

Second, teach children how to protect themselves during specific types of disasters. Use language that is appropriate to their skills and abilities, and remember that young children can easily confuse messages such as “drop, cover, and hold on” (response during an earthquake) and “stop, drop, and roll” (response if your clothing catches fire).

Third, even very young children can be taught how and when to call for emergency assistance. At home, post emergency telephone numbers by all phones and explain when to call each number. Include work and cell phone numbers for all household members. If the child cannot read, make a number chart with pictures or icons for 911, “daddy” and “mommy” that may help the child identify the correct number to call.

Instead of shying away from discussions about natural disasters, quiz your child periodically so they will remember what to do. Explain that when people know what to do and practice in advance, everyone is able to take care of themselves better in emergencies.