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Talking to Children About Haiti

by on Jan.16, 2010, under Character traits, Child development, Communication, Parent modeling, Parenting, Safety, Sensitive Topics

There is no debate that the disaster in Haiti is just that, a disaster. But there are differing opinions about whether young children should be exposed to this news.

While I suggest that you have a look at chapter 11 (Is the Fire Going to Come to Our House?” Answering questinos about Natural Disasters, Terrorism, and War) in my book,  Just Tell me What to Say, I offer a few pointers in the meantime.

Of course it is wholly up to you whether and what you tell your children about the earthquake. But remember, young children will personalize this terrible news. For children under the age of six the news is likely to raise anxiety and fear in them, worrying that such a disaster might strike here…them. And be careful to protect tyoung children from the constant media coverage. The repetitive nature of the news makes events seem even bigger and scarier.

Older children no doubt have already been exposed to this news. But even for them, I offer the following tips:

  • Take care of your own feelings first. You will surely leak, and you don’t want to add your own pain and saddness if it is extreme, to theirs.
  • Don’t whisper!  The moment you do so, or use “pig Latin,” your child’s ears perk right up.
  • Don’t avoid questions. Not answering questions gives a strong message about the taboo nature of the topic.
  • Find out what your child knows already. Doing so enables you to correct misinformation and give the facts in an age appropriate way.
  • Be honest and give accurate information. Just answer the question. Better he hears it from you or from someone else.
  • Listen for the question beneath the question. Of ten there is something else brewing that is a source of anxiety unexpressed.
  • Don’t downplay your child’s feelings. Resist the urge to say “Don’t worry.” or “Don’t be sad.” First of all, it doesn’t work. But more your child’s feelings are real and deserve your respect.
  • Share your own feelings to the appropriate degree. You don’t want to compound your child’s worries.
  • Remind your child that your job and that of all adults is to keep children safe. Talk with him about the difference in preparedness, safety precautions, and building regulations  in the U.S. vs Haiti.
  • Talk about the ways you are going to help. It always feel better when you are proactive. Help your child to find ways, along with you, to provide aid and show compassion.

Most schools,  houses of worship, and public agencies already have help opportunities in place, from where to take extra shoes to donating money and other supplies. Children are creating drives to raise money and are finding their own creative ways of being charitable. Don’t wait! 

As horrible as the earthquake in Haiti is, it is an opportunity to teach compassion and empathy  as well as to model charity in action.

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