Behaviour & Emotions

How to talk to your kids about scary events

Talk about scary events

It would be easy to think that the world is falling to pieces.

In the past decade, we’ve had earthquakes, tsunamis, a global financial crisis, terror attacks and pandemics. Today, another earthquake followed by a tsunami warning. No wonder we’re all frazzled and on edge.

As a parent, you might be wondering what you should do. Should you just pretend that nothing is wrong, and everyone in your town  just wanted to go for a fun walk in the hills? Or should you really be preparing for a zombie apocalypse?

My suggestion is that you do neither. Instead, here are three tips to help your family to navigate through these unforeseen and often disastrous events:

  1. Let them know that it’s normal to be scared and worried
  2. Be the place where they feel safe
  3. Do something practical to help them feel safe

1. Let them know that it’s normal to be scared and worried

There is no question that these events are unnerving, frightening or terrifying. We know it and our kids know it. So, while it may be natural for us to downplay the event in an effort to spare our children from the seriousness of it all, it is important that we let them know that we understand the situation might be scary for them.

Letting our children know it’s normal to feel worried, confused, or anxious, helps them know that their feelings are justified. It can also pave the way for them to talk openly about their worries rather than feeling they have to avoid them and “act brave” when all they want to do is cry and have a cuddle.

If we don’t make space for them to share how they are feeling, it may also deprive us of the opportunity to give our children the much-needed reassurance and comfort we know they might need.

How do you do this?

  • Ask them how they felt when the house was shaking
  • Ask them how they felt when all the phones got the emergency alert
  • Ask them if they are feeling worried or anxious

2. Be the place where they feel safe

As parents and adults, we know that the world is a big and complex place. But, too often, we forget that for our kids the world is pretty small and simple – mostly because, for them, the world is us.

And because we are our children’s world, it is with us that they can feel most heard and listened to, it is with us that they can feel most confident and strong, and it is with us that they can feel most safe and secure.

This means that, even when scary things happen, just being with our children, listening to our children, and being kind, considerate, and loving toward our children can be all that they need to overcome even the most challenging of unpredictable events.

How do you do this?

  • Practise listening  so you can empathise and understand
  • Offer to give your kids a hug – even your older kids
  • Pay attention to your own emotions so that you can be kind and patient
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3. Do something practical to help them feel safe

There are so many things in life that we can’t control, but we can help our children by giving them practical ideas and skills so they know what to do in these events. This can go a long way towards reducing their sense of helplessness, alleviate some of their anxiety and worry, and give them a sense of safety.

Now might be the perfect time to sit down as a family and create an escape plan in the case of a fire, or practise the turtle earthquake drill, or restock the emergency supplies, or run through your tsunami escape route.

These are all ways in which we can increase our children’s sense of safety and restore their belief in their ability to cope with these unpredictable events.

The world has always been a bit crazy

Over the past 100 years, humans have experienced all sorts of crazy experiences, and while these experiences can sometimes be tragic, unpredictable or terrifying, it is during these times, that humans have almost always come together in solidarity. What is true of humanity is also true for families. If we can navigate these types of challenges well, they can actually bring families closer together too.


Linde-Marie Amersfoort

Linde-Marie is our Child and Family Psychologist at Parenting Place. On top of her clinical practice work, she also works in our research team developing and evaluating our parenting programmes. She is Christchurch-based and in her free-time loves to explore the Port Hills and surrounding areas. Linde-Marie has a blog where she shares her thoughts and experiences on parenting her two teenage children

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