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Publication #FAR0805

Talking to Children about Disasters1

Suzanna Smith2

Figure 1. 
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Natural disasters, refugees displaced from their homes, loss of life . . . even for adults, these tragic events are difficult to understand. Children, too, may find these incidents especially troubling. Adults can help young people make sense of disasters and deal with their feelings by following a few guidelines.

For example, don't assume that children don't know what is going on. Children learn of disasters through TV, the Internet, and their friends at school. So, be available and ready to talk. Help children open up by listening to what they think and feel. Answer their questions, but don't give them frightening details.

Let them feel anger and sadness. When we are trying to protect our children, we may not want to hear all their feelings. Hang in there . . .listen and be supportive.

Share your feelings. Sometimes children may feel alone in their struggles. Let them know that you are upset by the events and tell them how you deal with your feelings. This can help children learn coping skills.

Reassure children and help them feel safe. Children often imagine that the same thing could happen to them. If they really are not in the line of danger, let them know that they are not at risk. Tell them that you love them, no matter what happens in the world.

Encourage children to find ways to help others, and join in. Taking action, such as raising money for a charity, can reduce stress, helps those affected by a disaster, and instills hope for the future.

Listening, learning, and living together: it's the science of life. "Family Album" is a co-production of University of Florida IFAS Extension, the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, and of WUFT-FM. If you'd like to learn more, please visit our website at

To listen to the radio broadcast:


Myers-Walls, J. (2005). Talking with children when the talking gets tough. Retrieved August 7, 2007, from



This document is FAR8038, one of a series of the Family Youth and Community Sciences Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Broadcast as program 260 in January 2007. Published on EDIS September 2012. In the interest of time and/or clarity, the broadcast version of this script may have been modified. Visit the EDIS website at


Suzanna Smith, associate professor, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.