One of the most significant tasks parents undertake in raising their children is establishing a solid sense of belonging for them and conveying that they are loved and secure in the embrace of their particular family circle.
It is within the context of this circle that our children draw courage, trust, resilience, and understanding when terrible events happen in our world.
I’ve talked with several parents about the recent earthquake in Haiti. They were unsure how much information their 4 and 5 -year-old children needed to know. A mom shared her 5-year-old’s complaint of tummy aches after talking about Haiti’s traumatic situation at school.
One of the most important measures for parents to take is to limit television coverage and monitor what information their child is hearing. When children see the graphic pictures of devastation and death, it is overwhelmingly frightening. Children are fooled by the on-going news cycles believing that the earthquake is continuing everyday – all day. Viewing the vivid scenes of destruction and personal tragedies is too raw for children to experience.
At times like this, when our children hear that homes have been destroyed, people killed, parents and children separated, no food or water to eat or drink, no where to live, it is incomprehensible for them, as it is for us.
Their immediate concern is “Will I be okay?” “Will that happen to my home, my town, my family?” Who will take care of me?” “Who will keep me safe?”
People will argue that in today’s world, we want our children to be global citizens, to share in empathy what others are experiencing and it begins with informing the children of these events. Here’s where I believe again, that less is more.
For children, the knowledge that the country of Haiti and the families who live there have experienced a very serious earthquake and need help from others is sufficient. Who helps them? Our focus should be on the helpers, those who come to the aid when things go terribly wrong. Airplanes and helicopters and ships full of food, water, clothing, doctors and nurses, firemen and soldiers, adults who volunteer, all helping the children and moms and dads and people of Haiti.
Deciding that your family can also be helpers is a positive, constructive means allowing children to be involved at a level they can relate to. How do they think we can help? Can we send money, donations of needed goods, a teddy bear? Could we draw pictures thanking all those who are helping the people in Haiti?
For school age children, it is important to answer a child’s questions truthfully and accurately without giving them more than they are seeking. Ask them what they’ve heard and correct any wrong information. It is still important to limit news coverage for this age also, not dwelling on the tragic details of the event or allowing it to dominate their experience.
Some children may show signs of stress, have trouble sleeping, want to be close, need to know where the adults in their life will be, become easily scared, working out some of their anxiety through behavior. Your presence is invaluable at such times – comforting routines, quiet bedtime talks, the warmth of your family circle.
You may notice children incorporating the events they have knowledge of into their dramatic play. After September 11th, I heard from many parents and teachers that children were constructing block buildings and flying airplanes into them. The adults were concerned that these children were insensitive about the terrible tragedy that had occurred. Actually, these children were dealing with their feelings and handling their emotions through play, trying to make their own sense out of a very scary situation, by facing it.
All of us watching the horrific scenes and knowing the suffering that is taking place can only begin to imagine the pain these families and people of Haiti are experiencing. It is times like this that we are so very grateful for our community, our friends, our family, our own circle of love and strength.