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Helping Your Children Understand Natural Disasters

By Scott Williams


Every few years some type of natural disaster occurs—whether it’s the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the tsunami that killed over 230,000 people in Southeast Asia on the day after Christmas in 2004, or Hurricane Katrina in 2005. These events turn the attention of people worldwide to the awesome power of nature, the brevity of life, and the intensity of suffering. As parents, sometimes we forget that our children are very much aware and affected by these images and stories they see on television.

We have a unique opportunity to seize the moment to teach our children about such important issues as the character of God, the inevitability of death, our hope in Christ, and the privilege of ministry.

If you’re like most people, the tidal waves have churned up a lot of questions and emotions as you try to grasp the enormity of the tragedy. Your children are probably going through the same thing. Keep in mind that you’ll never have all the answers, but that your children don’t expect you to. They mostly need you to help them work through what has happened and what it means in their world.

Don’t wait for the “perfect moment” to bring up the subject. While you’re at the dinner table, when you’re watching the evening news, or as you shuttle your children to school or activities, share your thoughts and emotions and invite them to ask questions. As you talk, more discussion is sure to open up, and you will be able to help them understand a spiritual perspective of such a disaster.

Here are some topics to discuss with children, along with some key Scriptures to read:

  • Dealing with fears—Psalm 56:3, Joshua 1:9
  • God’s sovereignty—Colossians 1:16-17
  • The brevity of life—James 4:14
  • Our eternal destiny—John 3:16, 36
  • Suffering with others—Romans 12:15
  • The need to pray for people to know the Savior
  • Seeing opportunities to give—2 Corinthians 9:7

Comments from a father of young children

I addressed how sometimes God allows things to happen that we don’t like or understand. I used a recent death in our family as a point of reference (something we had already dealt with and they already understood.)

I filled them in on what happened. We were just at the ocean in October, so they knew about waves and how strong the water is. I then shared how many, many people were killed. They immediately asked if the people who died loved Jesus or not.

We talked about the devastation and those without homes or food/water. They didn’t understand how the people could need water with all the water around them.

As far as lessons, we spoke of how all of the different soldiers and people were putting aside any differences and helping out together. We spoke of how things happen that we don’t always like and how God is in control of them all. We spoke much of the survivors and how God spared them but how they are facing hard times and needed to know God.

We prayed that many would know God through this, that God would be glorified, and that many homes would appreciate God’s provision while they still have it.

Comments from a father of four children

I’ve had to talk about death before with my four children (my wife, their mother, died five years ago), and I’ve discovered that it can actually be quite healthy for children to confront the reality of death and the greater reality of eternity. I think some of the important lessons are achieved by putting the matter in perspective: death against the backdrop of eternity, and disaster (so called because a large number of people “unexpectedly” die in a short period of time) against the backdrop of the average daily death totals—every day is somebody’s disaster. This is not to take recent events lightly, but to point out that God did not fall asleep at the wheel and let too many people die at once. The lesson there, I suppose, is that “it is appointed unto man ... to die” (Hebrews 9:27).

I think we tend to be more afraid of death than we need to be. Yes, it’s an enemy of God, and yes it painfully separates us from those we love, but it is our vehicle to God’s presence. This is why we do “not grieve as do the rest who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13) —and that hope is what we, and our children, need in the face of tsunamis, old age, diseases, car wrecks …

Comments from a father of young daughters

Madeline (8) and Malorie (6) are very concerned. Our conversations were trying to put the disaster in context for them to understand. Malorie was very concerned about how close we were to the ocean. How a tsunami starts. Will that ever happen to Oregon (where we are from and where all of our extended family is). Will that ever happen here. She was so concerned about it that she felt a little sick to the stomach and had a hard time going to sleep that night.

Madeline showed more concern for the people who are still alive. Especially when she heard that people were having to eat grass and didn’t have a place to sleep. The girls both asked how they could help. They even talked about sending some of the Christmas money they received to help kids over there. We talked to them about the extra giving we did and how it was going to help those in need. They asked if they could go through their closets and take out their old clothes and shoes for the kids also. Madeline, during bedtime prayer one night, prayed, “God, I have a question for you. When I get to heaven I want to know why you let things like this happen. So just be thinking about that one, okay?” She knows that we can’t understand all the God has in store, but she still asked!

One final suggestion: Use this opportunity to pray with your children for those affected by disasters. Many people will be suffering for months or years to come. Pray that God will provide for their needs, both physically and spiritually. And pray for God to show you ways you could be involved as a family in helping meet those needs.

Copyright ©2013 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

FamilyLife is a donor-supported ministry offering practical and biblical resources and events to help you build a godly marriage and family. 



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