Given the powerful media images still emerging from [the recent] devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, there’s a good chance your children are asking plenty of questions and harboring some very real fears about whether or not the same thing could happen in your hometown.

Large-scale natural disasters—and the following media coverage—can be very scary for children. To help children process information about them, Nadia Reilly, Ph.D., a psychologist in Children’s Hospital Boston’s Department of Psychiatry, suggests parents turn off the TV and talk to their children in order to combat feelings of helplessness.

“In general, you want to limit kids’ media exposure immediately after a disaster and set aside a quiet time to talk about it,” she says. “It can be traumatizing to see those images over and over again, so a talk with a parent can be a good way to help children contextualize the extent of the disaster.” Limiting your own media use immediately after a disaster is a great way to model behavior and can cut down on the number of frightening images they’re indirectly exposed to as well.

For children under 8 years old, Reilly says it’s important to try to keep the conversation as simple as possible. Don’t go into details of the specific disaster, but rather focus on the safety of your family and the people closest to you. Assure them that everything possible is being done to keep your child safe. “Knowing that adults have a plan if this ever happened here gives kids a sense of stabilization and control,” she says. “It can do a lot to help them feel safer.”

Republished from Thrive, Children’s Hospital Boston’s pediatric health blog.