28 January 2010 09:41 AM

Kids and Tragedy

by Dr. Rick

The news reports and pictures out of Haiti are horrendous, and we feel powerless and uncomprehending in the face of such overwhelming human need.  So much suffering, so suddenly, so unanticipated can stun and stagger us.


Imagine how our children feel.


They ask questions.  At home, at school, among their friends and playmates.  They’re curious, and they may feel unsafe or at risk.  It’s up to us adults – their parents, teachers, coaches, Sunday School leaders – to help them come to some sort of reconciliation, if not understanding.  (They’ll never understand completely.  Who could?)


Calm is best.  Kids look to us for stability, comfort, security, and reassurance.  Their most pressing need is to feel safe.  Kids can feel threatened by a tragedy, even if it’s far away.  Do your best to stay calm, provide clear and simple answers, and let them know that you’re going to be there for them.


This can be difficult.  Here are some things to keep in mind as we talk to our kids about tragedy, natural disaster, accident, or violence in the community.

  1. Listen.  Keep the lines of communication open, and listen carefully to their thoughts and ideas.  To discover what they already know and what misinformation they’ve picked up, probe with your own age-appropriate questions.  As any good listener will do, watch for non-verbal signals like averted eyes, fidgety hands, tears.

  2. Respect.  Accept their feelings with sensitivity.  Kids need time, our patience, and our role modeling to sort through uncertainty and difficult facts.   

  3. Share.  Talk about what you do to cope with difficult times.  Sharing with respected friends and mentors, writing, volunteering, praying, whatever works for you.   Children learn from us, and when we get a chance to teach them helpful behaviors, we should accept the opportunity.

  4. Join others.  Going to church or other memorial services is an opportunity to teach the valuable lesson that giving and receiving comfort is one of humanity’s greatest gifts.  Supporting each other in difficult times gives comfort all around.  Feeling a part of the larger community is a great benefit of communal worship and thanksgiving.

  5. Give.  Sometimes there’s not much else we can do other than to give to charities that are expert in providing care and relief.  Let your kids see that you’re contributing time, energy, or financial support to the charity of your choice.  Encourage them to give a small amount from their allowance – this will help them feel less powerless.

  6. Monitor.  News reports on TV, internet, newsmagazines and newspapers both online or in print are written primarily for adults.  Participate with your younger kids, and don’t hesitate to turn it off or not turn it on in the first place if you suspect what you’ll see is too disturbing for your children.  There’s a good web site that helps parents talk to their kids about hard-to-watch news.

  7. Be truthful.  You won’t have answers to all their questions, or maybe not even to some of them.  Admit that you’re unsure, confused, and sorrowful, too.  Show that you will help them try to get answers.

  8. Create.  Provide some creative outlets for kids to express their feelings.  Sometimes drawing, writing, music, and journals, for instance, can help kids who don’t have the words find the right medium to express their thoughts.

  9. Involve schools.  Encourage the schools to respond to highly visible tragedies, like natural disasters.  “Penny Jars” and other age-appropriate activities build a sense of community and show kids that their actions can help.  School guidance counselors are specially trained to help kids cope and to show adults how to help.

  10. Be positive.  Not always easy, but children respond to clear, simple words spoken with as much optimism as you can muster.  Let them know that they can always depend on you, that you’ll always love them, and that their safety is your primary concern.  Staying positive – not necessarily cheerful – will help them keep things in perspective.




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