Talking to Children about Natural Disasters
It is not uncommon for children affected directly and also indirectly, to have strong emotional and behavioral responses in the aftermath of any natural disaster.
- How do we process these disasters with our children who are far away from the affected areas, but have curiosity and awareness of the events?
- And for those of us in the throes of the hurricane aftermath ourselves, how do we anticipate, stay attuned, and respond to the needs of our children even as we are navigating displacement, damage, extreme disruption of the day to day?
As is true in almost all difficult conversations with kids, the best advice is to be honest in an age-appropriate way.
Resources for anticipating and responding to children of all ages in varying situations related to natural disasters:
- Four step guide to identifying and easing anxiety in children.
- Listening to and comforting your pre-verbal children.
- Watch Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood “A Storm in the Neighborhood/After the Neighborhood Storm” (Season 6, Episode 4) with children ages 2-5 on PBSKids, Amazon, or YouTube. PBS.org offers a guide to “Helping Children with Scary News.”
- This list of books can help children learn more about hurricanes specifically, and
A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams is a classic, award-winning picture book about a family who experiences a fire and must replace all of their possessions.
Be a Helper
As Fred Rogers taught generations of children on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, when something scary is happening, look for the helpers. Create space for our children to be helpers, too!
- Give tzedakah. Tzedakah is, for Jewish people, charitable giving, which we often view as a moral obligation. Talk with your family about different organizations and how your donation may be used. Older children can help with research and younger ones can help choose.
Purchase gift cards, donate, and offer on the ground support through The Union for Reform Judaism and the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston.
Provide immediate and long-term relief for Florida’s most vulnerable communities including the farmworkers of Immokolee, Florida through T’ruah: the rabbinic call for human rights and the Irma Community Recovery Fund in partnership with the Miami Foundation.
Support Georgia communities through the Southern Community Hurricane Organizing Fund.
Provide hygiene kits, safe water, and mental health support and rehabilitate through the American Joint Distribution Committee Hurricane Irma and Cuba Relief Fund.
- Lend a hand. From far away, organize with friends and family to send needed goods to those directly affected. Assemble and send hygiene kits for multiple demographics including diapers for little ones, cleanup buckets, or hold a bake sale or other fundraiser.
If you’re in South Florida or Houston, and able to do direct service, these organizations are doing daily outreach based on direct needs of impacted families:
- Pray with your words and your feet. At your Shabbat or Rosh Hashanah table, or from the bima at your synagogue, share a prayer or poem for those in the midst of disaster and invite your community to take action. Children can also create their own haiku or acrostic poem to share in school or synagogue
- Open your home. If you are living in or near an affected area, but have power and shelter, consider opening your home to evacuees and first responders through Airbnb’s Open Homes effort.
- Think long-term. Disasters are in the spotlight only for a few news cycles, but the impact can last months or years. Put a note in your calendar a month from now, six months from now, and a year from now to remind yourself to check and see how you might continue your involvement and support.
You’re doing great! This is really tough stuff. Here’s a Parent’s Prayer for Patience to honor you.