How to Talk to Kids about Natural Disasters Near Them

I’m not sure how far the news has spread, but Southern California has been ablaze this week. Fires are breaking out at a rapid rate, heavy winds and extreme heat are not helping. We are far enough away to be safe (I know some of you are in So Cal as well… hoping that you are safe too!) We are close enough to see the smoke and know people who are being evacuated. Fire talk is happening pretty much all the time.

With all this chatter the kids are bound to have questions. (And if they aren’t asking, you can bet the questions are brewing in their little brains.) Knowing what to say to kids about natural disasters close to home can be difficult. The last thing we want is to scare them or to make them feel like the danger is closer than it is.

Tips for talking to kids about natural disasters close to home


  • Know the facts. Staying up to date can be challenging, especially if you are trying to keep the news off around the kids, but knowing what is actually happening will help you field questions. Being stuck with answers like “I’m not sure” or “I don’t think that’s happened” is not extremely comforting. A search savvy friend of mine suggested searching the city name and the disaster. She also found a lot of great info from the school district. (of course if you also have a search savvy friend you can just make sure to check into their Facebook page regularly… that’s what I’m doing).
  • Figure out what they know. You choose how much they know about a situation… unless they go to school or the park or play with neighbor kids. Asking questions about what they have heard or what they know already will give you a clear understanding of where to start. Plus there is always a chance they are misinformed. Keep questions light “Did you hear about the fires?” “Oh your friend told you? What did she say about them?” “Do you know anything else?”
  • Figure out what they want to know. This is a big one. Sometimes kids are done with a conversation long before we actually stop talking. Keep your answers to questions brief and to the point. Ask “does that answer your question?” “do you have anymore questions?” often, so that you can move on as soon as they are ready.
  • Pay close attention to emotions. It is okay to be sad and it’s okay to be scared. If you have a little one who is particularly affected by this tread lightly with the facts that can be scary and remind them of just how safe you are. But give them the opportunity to feel the emotions. Let them know how you are feeling as well.
  • Focus on the stuff they think is cool. We watched 5 fire trucks and 1 paramedic fire truck drive by in a slow moving caravan. What a great opportunity to talk about the relief crew. Why they would be staying together and how many people are involved in putting the fires out. With every disaster there are tools, trucks and rescue crews that kids tend to be drawn to. Giving these areas attention will let the kids know what’s happening in a way that is less scary and overwhelming.
  • Focus on the positive. In every tragedy there are people who come forward with courage and kindness, there are stories of goodwill and heartwarming tales. Make sure those are included in your conversations. Helping your kids find the good moments in the terrible event will give them something uplifting to focus on.
  • Suggest action. Sometimes the best way to avoid sitting around with worry is to take action. Kids Health has great ideas for how families can help after a natural disaster. Even offering very simple help can allow kids to feel helpful and connected to the event in a positive way.

 What tips would you add for talking to kids about natural disasters close to home? 


  1. There is a new book called Upside Down In The Middle of Nowhere by Julie Lamana published by Chronicle Books. It is a wonderful and exciting story about Katrina from the point of view of a brave little girl and I think it is wonderful as Julie says… for storm tossed children everywhere. Good for children who see a disaster on TV and wonder what it might be like.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *