For parents across the state watching the devastation unfold on television, as tornadoes swept through Central and Northeastern Oklahoma Sunday and Monday, knowing how to talk to children about why these events happen can be a challenge. Although we would like to shelter our children from tragedy, the reality is children easily pick up on parents’ reactions, both verbal and non-verbal, as well as the continuous coverage at every turn. Children know what is going on around them, but likely won’t fully understand how it affects them. Events like the Moore, OK tornado can leave children with feelings of fear and anxiety long after the actual event occurs. Here are some ways that may be helpful in talking with your children about the Oklahoma tornadoes.
Be aware of exposure to coverage of the event on the television, computer and newspapers or magazines. Try to limit what they see and read, especially if you are not in the room to talk with them about what they are seeing and hearing. Overexposure not only affects younger children, but teenagers and young adults as well.
Continue to reassure your children that they are safe. Children may internalize these events and feel like they have happened much closer to their own home or environment than they actually have. Use age appropriate language to explain where the event happened and what you are doing to make sure they are safe at home or school.
Listen to their concerns and give them time to share what they are feeling. They may have underlying fears they are not expressing immediately, but which give them emotional stress. Allow them to come to you at any time with questions or concerns. Extra attention in the days and weeks following a tragic event gives them more reassurance of their own safety.
Be careful of your own actions, even if you don’t think they are watching you. If everything you are saying to your children is calming and reassuring, make sure your actions reflect that as well, specifically when you are talking about the event.
Be mindful of any changes in their behavior including sleep and eating patterns, ability to concentrate or complete tasks, and emotional swings.
Try to get back to a normal routine as soon as it is appropriate for your child. Order and a dependable schedule provide further reassurance in the days and weeks after a tragic event. If they would like to get involved, encourage them to help you volunteer. This will give them a sense of more control and security.
If you feel your child is demonstrating behavior that gives you concern, talk to your health care provider.