Helping Kids Understand Natural Disasters: A Parent’s Guide

By arayerevanian 6th February 2023

Your children might have questions after receiving tragic news about major earthquakes and natural disasters striking parts of the globe, such as the devastating natural disaster that struck Taiwan in 2024. Here are some age-appropriate facts and guidance on how to help children understand natural disasters.

ANOUGAL, MOROCCO - SEPTEMBER 12: A Spanish search and rescue team look for bodies beneath a collapsed building on September 12, 2023 in Anougal, Morocco. Almost 3000 people are now believed to be dead following the large earthquake that struck below villages in the High Atlas mountains around 70km south of Marrakesh. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

Spanish search and rescue team searching for victims under a collapsed building on 12 September 2023, in Anougal, Morocco. The devastating earthquake, striking beneath villages in the High Atlas mountains, has left nearly 3,000 people presumed dead. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

What is an earthquake?

Earthquakes are a natural disaster and occur when the tectonic plates that make up the Earth’s surface crash into or brush past each other. It can cause the ground to shake and open up large cracks in the earth’s surface. They happen somewhere in the world every day. But most of them don’t cause any damage.

The severity of earthquakes is measured using the Richter scale. It is a system used to measure the strength or magnitude of an earthquake. It measures the amount of ground shaking and energy released from an earthquake.

What is a natural disaster?

A natural disaster is an event caused by nature that results in devastation. These include deaths, injuries, and damaged buildings. Examples include: hurricanes, floods, drought, forest fires, volcanoes, earthquakes, landslides, and tsunamis.

Do we get earthquakes in the UK?

In the UK, earthquakes do occur, but they are so small, you most probably won’t even realise one has happened. The geology of much of the UK is pretty old – hundreds of millions of years – and it is riddled with ancient fault lines that were once very active but are virtually extinct now. That means there have been 39 small earthquakes recorded around the British Isles in the last 60 days, says the British Geological Survey, but they are hardly felt.

Experts say there is no reason to expect any increase in the strength of UK earthquakes over the coming decades.

What is a flood?

When there is too much water in one place, often because of heavy rainfall, it can cause a flood. There are different types of floods. River flooding is when rivers ‘burst their banks’ and overflow, spilling water in the surrounding area. Groundwater flooding is when the soil is so wet, it can’t absorb any more moisture. Coastal flooding is when the land gets flooded by sea water – this can be caused by high tides or extreme weather.

A flash flood is when flooding happens very quickly, often leaving people with little or no time to get to higher ground.

DERNA, LIBYA - SEPTEMBER 12: A damaged vehicle is stuck debris after the floods caused by the Storm Daniel ravaged disaster zones in Derna, Libya on September 12, 2023. The death toll from devastating floods in Libya's eastern city of Derna has risen to 5,300 and thousands of people are still missing, the country's official news agency reported on Tuesday. (Photo by Abdullah Mohammed Bonja/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

A damaged vehicle stuck in debris in the aftermath of the floods triggered by Storm Daniel in Derna, Libya, on 12 September 2023. The death toll from the destructive floods in Derna has reached 5,300, with thousands still missing, according to the country's official news agency. (Photo by Abdullah Mohammed Bonja/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Do we get floods in the UK?

Yes – but certainly not on the sort of scale as the one which has struck Libya. It rains a lot in the UK. Extremely heavy rain can cause river and groundwater floods that impact communities. Our streets have drains to collect rainwater, but sometimes they fill up, or get blocked and clogged by litter and debris, meaning that water can’t wash away.

The North Sea flood of 1953 was a result of high tides and strong storms and affected the east coast of the UK, killing hundreds. More recently, the wettest May-to-July period on record in 2007 led to widespread flooding across the country that affected millions of households. The military were called in to help with rescue efforts, and a total of 13 people were killed.

Turkey-Syria 2023 Earthquakes: One year on

It’s almost one year since a series of devastating earthquakes struck southern Turkey and northwest Syria. Thanks to the generosity of people across the UK, the DEC (Disasters Emergency Committee) Turkey-Syria Earthquake Appeal has raised more than £155 million. While rebuilding will take years, donations are helping hundreds of thousands of people in both countries on their long road to recovery.

DEC charities and their local partners have been providing food, clean water, warm clothes, psychological support, cash cards and supermarket vouchers to help people who’ve been affected. Many schools in Turkey and Syria were damaged in the earthquakes. Amira, the school principal at a school in Aleppo, Syria, said: “When the earthquake happened, major cracks appeared in the entrance and walls, and this worried us. Some parents stopped sending their children to the school for fear of aftershocks; other families left the city.”

DEC charity Action Against Hunger and its team completely renovated the school, providing new doors, windows and water tanks, and they painted the classrooms in bright colours. “Now we don’t have those worries any more. From the first day of the new academic year, we were able to notice the positive change,” says Amira.

Months later, children in both countries are still suffering from the distress caused by the earthquakes. DEC charity Save the Children is making sure children are properly supported. In the photo below, a group of children in a village in Adıyaman, Turkey, are having a drama workshop with psychologists to help them recover. They do activities to understand their rights and to help them heal. Save the Children has reached more than 2,100 children and their families with these support activities.

Sky Kids – Natural disasters: why do they happen? video

Sky Kids FYI presenter, Declan, shows us in this video, different types of natural disasters, focusing on volcanoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis; explaining what they are and why they happen.

How to talk to children when the news is scary

Written by First News Editor-in-Chief, Nicky Cox MBE, click here to read useful information and tips on how to discuss scary new stories such as natural disasters with your children.

Find out more!

If you wish to read more insightful pieces that could be discussed with your children, visit the Talking Points section of our website.

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