Did you start disaster planning and then stop when you got to the part where you were supposed to share your plan with your family? If you have kids, talking about disasters can be really hard. The instinct to shield our sweet little babies from the violence of the natural world is a strong one.
It’s a strong instinct, but it’s one we need to ignore, to some extent, if we want to make sure our kids understand what to do in an emergency.
If you think your kids are too young to talk about natural disasters, just wait until it’s time to talk to them about the birds and the bees. It’s probably coming up sooner than you think.
The good news is, our best friend TV is here to save the day. Or, at least to make the day a little easier. When complicated concepts are part of a larger narrative, it can be easier for young minds to understand them. Watching movies and TV shows that feature disasters together might be a good way to gauge your family’s readiness to talk about emergency planning. At the end of the show, ask what they thought about the disaster portion, and talk about what your family would do in the same situation, if the kids seem ready for it.
Here are some of our picks for approaching these difficult topics with kids. There are definitely more out there, so if these aren’t quite right for you, do a little searching and you’ll find something!
The Land Before Time (1988) – Earthquake, Volcano, Landslide, Meteor
A classic to start us off! Little Foot and his buddies spend an entire movie evacuating from a disaster that rocks their world.
Mickey Mouse Fire Escape (2014) – House Fire
If you like the old school, Mickey’s Fire Brigade is also a great option. Most schools are good at exposing to kids to house fire preparedness, but younger kids could also start off with those concepts through Lego, Paw Patrol, or similar civic-minded TV shows.
Bambi (1942) – Wildfire
It’s the wildfire that’s emblazoned on the minds of millions around the world, across multiple generations. If your kids can handle Bambi’s mom’s death, this might be the perfect way to introduce the concept of a wildfire.
Swiss Family Robinson (1960) – Hurricane
Another classic from the Disney vaults, SFR is a true survival saga. The family is tossed ashore by a violent storm, and spends the entire film rebuilding their lives using just the supplies they can secure from the ship and the natural landscape. As a bonus, the stowaway storyline could give you an opening to talk about gender expression, pronouns, and respecting people’s decisions to change the way they present themselves.
Oz, the Great and Powerful (2013) – Tornado
The original Wizard of Oz film also has a great tornado scene, but it just can’t compete with the funnel cloud you see here.
Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001) – Tsunami
There are so many examples of tsunami in media for adults, but it hasn’t made as big a splash in kids’ entertainment. The tidal wave in Atlantis might be the best animated option for young kids, although there’s also a large wave that catches our hero on the ocean in Moana. Surf’s Up and Happy Feet 2 also provide great openings to talk about scary waves with
A cheerful disaster, if we’ve ever seen one. Piglet is usually more worried than he needs to be, but he seems awfully calm as his home is completely destroyed by flooding. We stan a calm head in a crisis.
Raven’s Home: “Oh Father, Where Art Thou?” (2018) – Snowstorm
It’s pretty hokey, but this episode (Season 2, Episode 8) talks about travel interruptions and sheltering in place due to snow, which is a scenario lots of kids will likely experience while they’re still young.
Phineas and Ferb: “Blackout!” (2012) – Power Outage
Another common disaster for kids is a blackout! (Season 3, Episode 62). If they’ve never been in one, it can be a scary experience, especially at night.
Get Straight to the Point
If you’re short on time yourself, or have kids with limited screen time, FEMA has also made some disaster preparedness videos aimed at children. They are cringe, but the concepts are solid!
- Disaster Dodgers Introduction
- Family Communications Plan and Emergency Kit
- Fire Emergencies
- Severe Weather
- Earthquake Drill
- Fire Drill
Whichever approach you take to helping your kids understand disasters and how to prepare for them, it’s always best to teach them what you can. Kids can learn about complex concepts, but their imaginations can make a scary idea even scarier. Remind them that a disaster isn’t likely, but being aware of possible disasters is wise. Emphasize that staying calm and listening closely for instructions from parents, caregivers, or teachers during a disaster is a good way to stay safe.
You’re going to do great.