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Children's Health

Talking With Kids About Disasters

Experts explain how to talk to your children about terrorism and natural disasters.
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When talking to your children, focus on the unlikelihood of anything bad happening to them, he says. "No matter how old the child is, there is always the sense of 'am I going to be OK?'"

While as a parent, you may also be concerned about natural disasters and/or coping with terrorism, "don't use your kids as a sounding board for your own anxiety and worries," Hoffman says. Instead, "use an adult spouse or friend."

Limit Their Exposure to the News

"One of the things we learned from Sept. 11, 2001 is that people can be very traumatized from watching events like that on television," Kashurba says. Many adults developed posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from watching the planes hit the twin towers on TV. A psychological disorder, PTSD is marked by flashbacks of the event, feelings of numbness or detachment from everyday life, irritability, angry outbursts, and trouble concentrating.

"We really like to try to keep young kids away from watching things like that on television," he says. "These are very intense images with very little context," he says. Plus, the newscast tends to jump around. "You are watching a traumatic event in New York City, something from the war in Iraq and then a fire down the street, so all the images get jumbled together."

Young children's sense of reality is not well developed, Hoffman says, so when they watch the news, "They may think a new plane is hitting a new building each time they watch the terrorist attacks," Hoffman says. "Less is more for preschool- or school-aged children."

Keep in mind also that TV is not the only medium for news in today's world. In 2007, kids can also be exposed to news about a natural disaster when they log onto the computer to IM with their friends. "We like to have the computer in a place where it is in view of the parents, not in their room," Kashurba says. "Just like we like to have their TV watching supervised, we also like there to be supervision of children's exposure on the Internet."

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