How to talk to your kids about Hurricane Fiona

The sight of washed-out bridges, destroyed houses and uprooted old trees can raise some questions in your child. Here’s the best way to reply without freaking her out.

Like many Canadians, I was dejected to see Hurricane Fiona devastate the Maritimes. The sight of washed out bridges, destroyed houses and uprooted old trees broke my heart.

children are exposed to more and more news like these, which can be particularly difficult for parents as we struggle to explain what is happening. Maybe you keep asking yourself How much is too much information?

Your first instinct might be to try to protect her by diverting her attention or maybe even avoiding the question. But when a child asks a question, it’s always best to provide an age-appropriate answer. Otherwise, they may not see you as their “go-to” when they have tough questions.

Here are some helpful strategies for parents:

1. Take your time

If your child asks challenging questions, try to answer them right away or make time to answer them as soon as possible.

2. Name it

It can be helpful to give a name or label to the bad thing that happened. This helps your child understand what happened. In psychology we call this strategy “name it to tame it”. By putting a label on the disturbing event or thought, the child can identify it and give it an appropriate place in their memory.

In the case of Hurricane Fiona, it may be appropriate to define that event as a tragedy. You might want to explain that tragedy is when something very bad happens. Earthquakes, famines, hurricanes, wars, and car accidents are examples of tragedies.

3. Recognize and accept your child’s reaction

Your child may express fear, sadness, or other concerns about what happened after you give your explanation. Avoid downplaying these emotions with comments like “Oh don’t worry, we don’t have hurricanes here” or “Try not to think about it.” Listen to your child, listen to their fears and take the opportunity to connect with them on an emotional level .

Here are some ways you can respond to your child’s fears:

I understand how you feel. I feel the same way when I see something like this on the news.

The world can be a very confusing place. It’s hard to accept that sometimes bad things happen in the world around us.

I don’t have all the answers, but you can always talk to me about things that upset you.

Your child can grapple with the “why” of tragedy. In such cases, you might want to refer to one of my most famous quotes from On the News: Our First Talk About Tragedy:

“Nobody knows exactly why tragedies happen. There can be many reasons why a particular tragedy happened. Part of understanding tragedy is accepting that most of the time we can’t control it. This applies in particular to natural disasters. I have some of my own ideas as to why very bad things happen from time to time. Perhaps tragedy happens to give people a chance to be strong. Perhaps tragedies happen to give people a chance to be brave. Perhaps tragedies happen to give people a chance to be kind and compassionate. Perhaps tragedies happen to bring people together.”

The key to explaining a tragedy to young children is to be truthful but end on a hopeful note. Give your child a hug to reaffirm that you can give them love, security, and comfort. In the absence of the perfect answer, it’s always okay to say, “I love you and you’re safe.”

dr Jillian Roberts is a child psychologist and professor at the University of Victoria. She is the author of In the News: Our first conversation about a tragedy, which is available on

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