September 20, 2023

How to talk to kids about wildfires, hurricanes and more

Extreme weather is increasing in frequency and intensity — and can be scary, especially for young people.  Experts explain how to talk to kids about wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes and more.  (Illustration by Quinn Lemmers for Yahoo/Photo: Getty Images)

Extreme weather is increasing in frequency and intensity – and can be frightening, especially for young people. Experts explain how to talk to kids about wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes and more. (Illustration by Quinn Lemmers for Yahoo/Photo: Getty Images)

Extreme weather events have become more frequent and severe in recent decades and experts say will continue on this trajectory. Whether it’s wildfires, high temperatures, tornadoes, or some other natural disaster, kids will usually notice when something isn’t right.

Some kids may ask questions but others don’t and they may get stressed about something you didn’t even know they knew, Dr. Gina Posner, a board-certified pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, tells Yahoo Life.

If extreme weather hits your family or it’s big enough to make the news, experts say you should talk to your kids about it. But how can you do it in a way that doesn’t drive them completely crazy? This is what doctors recommend.

Why talk to children about extreme weather?

When your child is young (think: two to three), you really only need to talk to them about extreme weather if it affects them, Posner says. “With little ones, you can talk to them about how extreme weather will affect them, like, There will be days when we have to stay indoors because of fires. If we can’t, we wear a mask so we don’t feel sick.”

But when they’re a little older, chances are they’ll realize that extreme weather is happening, whether it’s local or not. “They’ll hear about it through the news or friends,” says Dr. Daniel Ganjian, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, told Yahoo Life.

Children may also not understand details about the extreme weather situation, including the direct impact on them. “Often what we imagine about a situation can be worse than what actually happens,” Kelly Maynes, a child psychologist at Connecticut Children’s, tells Yahoo Life. “This is especially true for children – with a situation like the wildfires in Canada, where we are actually witnessing the effects in our own backyards, children may believe that the threat of the fire and other hazards are much closer than they actually are. “

Maynes says it’s “tempting” to avoid discussing anything that doesn’t pose an imminent threat. But, she adds, “some basic and transparent information could serve to reduce the anxiety of others, especially children.”

How do you handle this conversation?

It depends. “If the extreme weather directly affects the area where you live, it can be helpful to start the conversation with a question,” Hillary Ammon, a clinical psychologist with the Center for Anxiety & Women’s Emotional Wellness, tells Yahoo Life . For example, if there are wildfires near you, she says you can say something like “Did you notice it looks a little hazy today?” or “Did you notice that it smelled like smoke outside?”

“This can encourage your kids to share what they already know about the extreme weather so you know how to handle it,” she says.

If your child isn’t aware of extreme weather, it can be helpful to ask them if they have any questions or want to talk about it, says Ammon. “If they say no, it’s okay to give them space. Remind them you’re ready to chat when they are,” she says.

How to talk to your kids about extreme weather without increasing their anxiety

Extreme weather is often unpredictable and can be scary even for adults. But Maynes says there’s a way to talk about it without making your child feel more anxious.

“By keeping the discussion a real conversation where questions are encouraged, the opportunities to mitigate heightened anxiety are greater,” she says. “If you are asked a question that you don’t have the answer to or don’t feel prepared to answer, an answer like I’m not sure, but maybe we can work it out together? is fair.”

It can also be helpful to have information ahead of time about how different community helpers help victims of extreme weather, as well as your family’s own plan for communicating during storms or other events. But you don’t have to dismiss your child’s concerns either. “It can be helpful to recognize feelings like anxiety, fear, or worry,” says Maynes. “It’s reasonable to be a little scared, and we can also identify all the people who are trying to help.”

Also, consider your child’s age when talking about extreme weather. “It’s important to discuss the extreme weather in an age-appropriate manner and stick to the facts,” says Ammon. She also notes that it’s important to limit their exposure to the news or images of extreme weather to avoid worrying about the event.

Signs your child is stressed about extreme weather

Maynes says there are a few signs that your child may be stressed or anxious about extreme weather. These include:

  • Asking repeated questions about the weather and how it can affect their own safety and that of loved ones

  • Questions about the safety of their home

  • Changes in sleep or appetite

  • New physical complaints, including muscle pain, headache or stomach ache

“While it is not helpful to provide certainty regarding extreme weather, such as We will never experience a forest fire where we live, you can help them understand that these extreme weather events are often infrequent,” says Ammon. “It can be helpful to show them how to have some control over your response to extreme weather.” it’s smoky outside and wearing a face mask outdoors along with safety precautions people who live in high-risk hurricane and tornado areas can take.

Maynes suggests letting your child know you’re there to answer questions and validate their concerns while offering some reassurance.

“If fears come up during school or at other times, it can help to have a short phrase they can repeat — I know I’m safe — or a small object that offers comfort,” says Maynes.

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