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Talk to children about floods

talk-to-teens.jpgMedia Contact: Catherine Dehdashti, University of Minnesota Extension, 612-625-0237,

ST. PAUL, Minn. (3/15/2011) —When a natural disaster occurs in the community, it will affect every member of that community or household in a variety of ways. It is important for parents to take a moment from the immediate needs that must be met and talk with their children.

"When parents do not discuss the disaster with children, it appears that these things are so horrible that even adults dare not talk about them," said Kathleen Olson, a family relations educator with University of Minnesota Extension. "When children are stressed, they often express their feelings through actions rather than words."

Olson suggests that you try comfort and reassure your child if he or she acts differently or behaves in unacceptable ways. Make the assumption that the behavior is in response to stress. Be aware of the extra attention and affection your child may need during this time.

Olson shared these tips for talking to children in a crisis:

Ask questions and listen
Do not downplay their worries, and don't try to cheer them up or tell them they shouldn't worry. Instead of trying to solve their problems, let them know you are there to help them find a solution, or to just listen.

Be available and "askable"
Not talking to children about the flood or what is happening to the families involved can convey that the subject is off limits. Be open to talking about it on the child's level. Be a good listener so children express their worries and questions. Don't worry about having all the answers.

Share your feelings
Tell them about your own concerns but don't overwhelm them. Talking about your feelings makes it easier for them to share feelings.

Support children's concern for people they do not know
News media outlets throughout the nation report on disasters, so other people in children's lives may call and talk to them with their concern. Acknowledge this level of caring from people who are far away.

Look for feelings beyond fear
Children need some reassurance, but don't stop there. Continue to be open to talking about the disaster and progress that has been made. Encourage children to express other emotions such as anger or questioning why this would happen.

Prepare and reassure
Help children prepare a "go bag" ahead of time to help them feel prepared for a possible disaster. Keep the bag handy by an exit door. Ask children to select a couple of changes of clothing, a "mobile toy" like a stuffed animal, small ball, action toy or playing cards, but no more than what the child can carry in a bag. Include some transportable snacks like granola bars, mini raisin boxes and a water bottle. Older children benefit by preparing their own "go bag."

Although parents would like to protect children from all the disasters and bad things that occur in today's world, no one can do that. It is important for all adults in the lives of children to remain open, honest and available.

Additional resources
Fact sheets and videos with research-based tips on immediate and long-term flood issues
Flood Information Line: 1-800-232-9077,
For questions about water, crops, horticulture, and climatology issues
AnswerLine: 1-800-854-1678,
For questions about cleaning, stains, mildew, and food safety issues

Sources: Kathleen Olson, family relations educator, University of Minnesota Extension

Media Contact:
Catherine Dehdashti, U of M Extension, (612) 625-0237,

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