Helping Children Cope with Natural and Man-Made Disasters

Recently, Dale Leidheiser, our State 4-H Youth Development Program Director, shared the following information about helping children cope with natural and man-made disasters.  We wanted to pass this along to provide ideas for things parents and adult leaders/role models working with young people can do to help them cope.

It seems like the last several months have brought one large, horrific disaster after another, events that resonate on the news for weeks. And while it may seem hard for us, as adults, to rationalize these disasters, it can be even harder for young people to understand and process distressing situations.  Children may not have automatic reactions to world events and often watch adults to learn how to react. There are many things we can do as parents and as adult role models to help youth learn how to cope with troubling events and minimize stress and fear:

  • Turn off TV news. It’s tempting to stay plugged in, especially with today’s 24-hour news cycle making it easy to stay up-to-date on latest developments. But prolonged television exposure to the event can cause emotional distress, even in young people who were not directly affected by the disaster.
  • React calmly and carefully monitor your own emotional response. Children will often use our responses to stress to help evaluate a situation.
  • Facilitate calm, open discussions about the disasters; give youth a safe, reasoned space to talk through their fears and reactions.
  • Where possible, do not let the events disrupt the usual routine.

Thank you all for your continued work in helping Wisconsin 4-H’ers grow into flexible, resilient youth. There are many resources on coping with disasters available online, if needed: