CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- How should you explain a chemical leak that contaminated the water for 300,000 people in parts of 9 counties to your 5-year-old son or daughter?
How do you reassure small children about the water crisis while even the experts know so little about the chemical that leaked in the Elk River and into the water supply?
What do you tell your kids when all "do-not-use" orders have been lifted and officials say the water is safe -- but the vast majority of people still won't drink it?
Because of the uncertainties surrounding the water crisis, answering those questions can be challenging, said Dr. Scott Needle, a Florida pediatrician with the American Academy of Pediatrics.
"Part of it is, admittedly, tough because the situation is still evolving," Needle, a member of the AAP's Disaster Preparedness Advisory Council, said. "The experts are still getting together to figure it out. The uncertainty is a little unnerving and it makes the situation hard to deal with."
But there are things that parents can do to reassure their children, Needle said.
"One of the biggest things I like to tell parents is to, first, open up and talk to the kids and see if they have any questions about what's going on," Needle said. Sometimes children are not worried or they are not interested in the situation. Other times, they may have misconceptions about what's going on.
"Do it at an age-appropriate level using simple terms judging by how much they understand or how interested they are in it," Needle said.
He recommends that parents monitor how much news coverage their children see about the chemical leak.
"Make sure they're not getting over-exposed to the media cover," Needle said. "A lot of times, they may not understand what they're seeing -- or if they're watching some coverage over and over, that can be traumatic."