talking to kids about the gulf oil spill

...with a little help from Diego!

Trying to figure out how to talk to your kids about the oil spill? Diego can help. Watch Diego's "Ocean Animal Rescuer" in the video player on this page, and then try our talking points below.
It's nearly impossible to shield children from the unpleasant news about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. But you can help put your kids more at ease by talking to them about the events in the Gulf in age-appropriate ways. A perfect way to start that conversation is by watching the Go, Diego, Go! "Ocean Animal Rescuer" episode as a family and playing games together that help them understand this complicated topic.

Watch, Ask & Listen

Watching the "Ocean Animal Rescuer!" episode together is a great way to initiate a conversation about the Gulf oil spill. You can begin by talking about the episode and asking your child questions about it: "What was your favorite part?" "Which was your favorite baby ocean animal?" "Were there times when you were frightened?" "How did Alicia help clean up the oil spill?" "What did Alicia and Diego tell us that we can do to make the world a cleaner place and help animals every day?"

A little more probing can help uncover anything left unsaid. Try asking: "What are your friends saying about the oil spill? Are your friends worried? What do you think they're worried about?"

Don't worry if your kids don't want to talk about it. Just by opening up the conversation, you're letting them know that it's okay to talk with you about this subject and that you are ready if and when they want to talk.

After you've talked about the episode, you can ask your child what she has heard about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Ask: "Have you heard people talking about the oil spill that's happening right now? What have you heard?" You may be surprised by your child's answers. Kids may know more than you thought or have incorrect assumptions about what is happening.

Offer Reassurance

It's important to clarify any misconceptions in a matter-of-fact way and let kids know where the spill is located and that it cannot hurt them. With kids of all ages, say, "You don't have to be scared about the oil spill. And I'm always here to help keep you safe." If you live in an area unaffected by the spill, you can tell young children that it is happening far away and that your family doesn't have to be worried. With school-aged kids, you can look at a map together to help them understand where the Gulf is located and to clarify your family's place in the world. If you live in a location affected by the spill, accentuate the fact that you are there to protect your kids.

Offer further reassurance by telling kids that there are lots of adults working on the problem. Try using some of the same language Diego uses in the episode. You can say, "Yes, some oil spilled into the water, but there are lots of Ocean Animal Rescuers who are there to clean it up, to make the ocean safe for the baby animals, and to make it all better."

Another way to reassure your kids is by keeping your family's routine the same during this time. When each day and each week follow the same predictable pattern, kids will feel confident that nothing has changed and there is nothing to worry about.

Open Up

When you ask kids how they feel about the oil spill, be sure to be honest about how you feel, too. (Acting like you are not sad or upset, when you are, can be confusing to kids.) While watching the episode--or if your child sees a news report about the Gulf oil spill--you can say "How does that make you feel?" Listen to their answer, and then validate their feelings by saying, "It's okay to feel that way. I feel that way, too." Turn the conversation again toward the positive aspects of how many people are working to make everything better and how happy it makes you to know that Ocean Animal Rescuers are working to take care of the animals.

Use Play to Empower Kids

The play-along aspects of the Diego episode are intended to empower kids as they work with Diego to rescue the animals and clean up the oil. Take this aspect of the episode a step further and act it out together through pretend play. Keep game play focused on positive aspects of how Ocean Animal Rescuers help baby animals. Take turns playing the parts of the animals in trouble and the Ocean Animal Rescuers.

If you see your kids drawing pictures of the oil spill, join them! Drawing is a great way for children to express their feelings. Ask questions about what they are drawing and how they feel about what they are drawing. Draw your own picture of people helping the animals and cleaning up the water.

Watch Out for Intense Images

For school-aged kids, watching the news together can help start conversations about the oil spill. And having you close by to talk to them about it will be reassuring. But for younger kids, these images may be very stressful. Seeing animals hurt and in danger is especially upsetting for small children. Try turning off news reports on TV and online when your preschooler is in the room.

Here are a few more ways to talk to your kids about the oil spill.