Talking about the Gulf Coast disaster

>I wonder what parents are telling their children about the oil spewing into the Gulf Coast waters. June 20 marked two months since the British Petroleum oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, sending untold gallons of raw oil into the sea and fouling beaches and marshes. President Barak Obama has called it the “greatest environmental disaster of its kind in history,” so it’s not enough just to tell your children the oil is bad for fish.

In fact, the news is everywhere, and your child has likely already heard a lot about the Gulf Coast oil disaster and/or seen pictures of oil-soaked wildlife, so be prepared to talk about it.

Pete Stavinoha, Ph.D., a child neuropsychologist at Children’s Medical Center, says the Gulf Coast disaster provides a starting point for discussions with your children about environmental responsibility and stewardship.

But it is also a subject that could raise anxieties in smaller children who see images of dead or dying wildlife, so it is important to monitor their time listening to and watching the news.

Stavinoha suggests parents:

  • Listen to children and encourage them to ask questions at their own level of understanding. It’s OK to say you don’t know all the answers. It’s also OK not to overwhelm them with information that they may not understand.

  • Pay attention to younger children’s play and drawings. They may give you a clue about what they are feeling or what they know about the disaster. This may provide the opportunity to talk about it and perhaps clarify their questions.
  • Don’t downplay the seriousness of the situation. Especially for older children, it is important to acknowledge the significance of the event.

If your child is old enough, watch news reports or read the news together to encourage conversation about the topic. PBS has age-appropriate guidelines about how much news children should be watching and what they will understand about the news that are helpful.

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