How to talk about disaster with children?

In this era of more and more transparent information, bad news seems to be more easily spread than good news. We seem to be enveloped by all kinds of unexpected accidents, negative news, natural and man-made disasters and other news at any time. Whether we like it or not, TV, newspapers, the Internet, mobile phones and other media will present a large number of details of the event in front of our eyes.

Our emotions also fluctuate, because news reports, live photos, video images and other content generate fear, anxiety, anger and sadness.

In the eyes of our children, will these disasters look like what? They often have a vague understanding of what from their parents’ anxious narratives or media reports that are not handled by them. In that immature small world, what kind of impact will disasters and scenes in the news bring? How can parents talk about disasters with their children?

When children know that disaster has occurred,

All kinds of negative information spread by mass media will bring important influence to minors.

In the U.S. Movie classification system, there are clear classification regulations for all kinds of movie content that are not suitable for children to watch:

    For teenagers and children under the age of 17, even movies with short-term violence and horror scenes, the classification system will require parents to watch them. For children under the age of 13, some movies with obvious violence, nudity, drug abuse and other contents are explicitly prohibited from watching. Others are classified as [special counseling level] and require parents to accompany them to watch and give correct explanations and guidance.

When a disaster occurs, we certainly hope that children will not be excessively exposed to negative information and will reduce the fear, anxiety, sadness and other emotions brought about by it. However, even children who cannot speak may learn about the occurrence of terrible things in some ways.

Younger children can see their parents watching news reports in shock or talking about disaster events with great anxiety. Older children, on the other hand, can directly obtain a large amount of direct disaster information through various media channels.

If we don’t take the initiative to talk about the disaster with our children and help them properly understand what happened, they will probably fall into uncertain panic and worry and use unrealistic fantasies to understand the unknown world that is difficult to understand:

    Why did such a terrible explosion occur? Will there be an explosion near my home? Why did those people shed so much blood? Will they die? Will my family and I also be injured and killed? The child’s mother is missing. Where has she gone? Will my parents disappear one day? Their houses were all blown up, can they still go home? Will their life be better in the future?

Should parents talk about disasters with their children how?

Children have stronger compassion than adults. They are often more likely to identify with those who have experienced misfortune and even feel particularly sad about the misfortune of those who have been affected.

In fact, being able to observe and understand other people’s emotions is a process of building good empathy.

In addition, the process of understanding [disaster] can help children experience the impermanence and separation in life, and also increase their ability to care for others.

At the same time, learning how to face natural and man-made disasters is a compulsory course for children in life, and it is also a good opportunity for parents to share each other’s feelings with children, overcome difficulties together, and further deepen parent-child feelings.

What should parents do?

    Handle your emotions: Try not to express excessive expressions or words of panic, anger or anxiety in front of the child. Explain to the child what happened: Explain the what as accurately as possible to the child, but do not describe the details of terror, and it is best not to say what your child did not ask. Limit children’s excessive exposure to disaster reports: explain and guide the information that children already know to help them understand the truth correctly; Tell the children it’s not their fault: Due to children’s special attribution mechanism, When a disaster happens, they will probably think it is because they are not good enough. Or their own fault. So parents need to tell them: It is not a child’s responsibility to see and hear or experience disasters, injuries, deaths and other bad things. It will not happen because of a child’s [bad behavior] or [bad thoughts]. Help them express their feelings and appease their emotions: Ask your child what he or she thinks and feels about the disaster, If they should recognize and appease them when they feel sad and afraid, Don’t simply say: [what has something to worry about] [Don’t be afraid, Be strong] wait, Please tell them: Although bad things have happened, But I will be with you, Will not leave you. Let children know more positive information: For example, many people provide help as volunteers, take care of the injured, donate property, etc. Let them believe that most people will safeguard the world and protect them. Choose the opportunity to carry out safety education: For older children with independent ability, safety education can be properly carried out to tell them how to protect themselves and escape from disasters.

Notably, If your child still looks stressed one month after the disaster, Then he may need professional help. You need to take your child to professional psychological counseling or to see a mental health care institution. Generally speaking, you can choose the psychiatric department of a large general hospital, the mental health department (psychiatric department) of a pediatric specialized hospital and the psychiatric specialized hospital.

For example, the alternative hospitals close to the Tianjin explosion include: Tianjin Mental Health Center (Tianjin Anding Hospital), Tianjin Medical University General Hospital, Tianjin Fourth Central Hospital, Beijing Anding Hospital, Peking Union Medical College Hospital, Peking University Sixth Hospital, Peking University First Hospital, Beijing Huilongguan Hospital, etc.

Although we need to protect our children from being hurt in disasters, we do not need to be too nervous about children’s attention to disaster events. It is unrealistic to completely isolate them from unfortunate events.

The correct way may be to provide companionship, comfort and guidance according to the children’s bearing capacity and scope, and to face disasters with them.

Responsible Editors: Ding Ruoshui and Wang Danqing