Catholic Parenting: Talking to Your Kids about Natural Disasters (Part 2 of 2)

Our kids are asking: If God is all-good and all-powerful, then why is He allowing so many people to suffer in natural disasters?

(Part 2 of 2)

Part 1: Before you can talk to your child, you have to find peace in your own heart

Part 2: Talking to Your Child about Natural Disasters

This piece by Focus on the Family (a non-denominational Christian ministry) offers many helpful insights and tips for parents.  They cover much of what I had planned to say, so I encourage you to check out their article.

I will add to their reflections that your child wants to talk to you, and you don’t have to have all of the right or perfect answers to get the conversation started.   Here are some suggestions:

  • Begin by inviting your child to share what they know. (“What are you hearing about this at school?”  “Have you seen anything about this in the news?”) This way you can speak to their concerns without adding new, potentially frightening information they hadn’t already known.  You’ll also be able to focus on what part is bothering them the most.
  • Help them name their feelings. After your child shares what they know (that all their friends are talking about the hurricane flooding, or that so-and-so’s relative died in one of the forest fires), ask them, “how do you feel about that?”  Kids don’t always know how to name their feelings, so gently make some suggestions from a list like this if they seem stuck (“Does seeing those pictures make you feel ____?”  “Do you feel ___ when you hear the other kids talking like that?”)  Be gentle and slow – you’re trying to help your kid name for themselves how they feel, and they may need some time to figure it out.
  • Affirm them that it’s OK to feel that way, and you are here to help them. For kids who aren’t used to naming their emotions, it’s very important that you affirm that their reactions are OK and your family is a safe place to share them.  (“I feel scared sometimes too when I watch news like that…” or “Thank you for telling me that.”)
  • If it’s helpful, talk through your family’s plans for staying safe in situations like this. Depending on your child’s personality, some children feel much better when they know that there’s a “plan” for emergencies.  Saying things like “if something like that happened here, we would go stay with Grandma for a few days” or “we have water and canned food in the basement so that if we ever lost power like that, we would be OK.”  Not all kids need this step, but for some it’s very comforting.
  • Don’t make promises you can’t keep. If your child asks you, “could that ever happen to us?” I encourage you to focus your answer on the fact that (1) you as their parent will do everything you can to keep them safe, and (2) God will be with your family no matter what happens.  (“As your parent I will do my best to keep our family as safe as we can be.  But even if something would happen that would make us leave our house, God will be with us and take care of us.  We trust in Him.”)
  • Pick an “action plan” and focus on becoming HELPERS.  For many kids, being able to DO SOMETHING to help those suffering from natural disasters is very empowering.  Seeing themselves as a “HELPER” is a great way to help them respond positively to the suffering of others.  Depending on your child’s age, you might consider helping with collecting donations for that area of the country, taking that child with you when you donate blood to see all the people who are helping, praying a Rosary together, or even signing up for a service project in the local area (“we can’t clean up for the people in Texas, but we can do so for the people here in King of Prussia.”)  Especially for children ages eight and up, encourage them to channel their concern into concrete actions that will help people.  (“Jesus tells us to always help others – this is our chance to show them God’s love.”)

May God bless and strengthen you in your mission as Christian parents in these challenging times.