The heartbreaking stories and images of the disaster in Japan are difficult for adults to comprehend. What about the children? How do we explain this tragedy to our kids?
Here’s a quick story: As an educator, I (and a few others) had to make a decision whether or not to start school in New York the day after 9/11. It was a painstaking decision. While the school was a little over an hour from the disaster site, the whole school community – teachers, parents and children were worried and grieving. One of the reasons we chose to open our doors as planned on Sept. 12th was that we knew children develop a deeper sense of empathy when they are given the tools to cope with difficult circumstances. I believe that teaching environmental and global awareness to children is paramount.
10 Ways To Help Kids Cope With The Disaster In Japan
1. Provide accurate information. There’s no need to give all the details, but use the opportunity as an age-appropriate teachable moment to provide information.
2. How much information is too much? Give simple answers to questions. Filter the information that they won’t understand out.
3. Provide reassurance and validate children’s feelings. Show them you care and tell them you are worried too. Kids find comfort in knowing that their day-to-day world is intact. Stay as much on schedule as you can.
4. Should you let your child watch tsunami news coverage? That’s up to you. If you chose to watch the news, it is advisable to watch it with them. Even older children who have access to a multitude of media information need to be monitored. Just being available to answer their questions and provide a chance to discuss the images, makes children feel safer. Most TV news programs tell you when scenes are graphic. Opt not to watch those with children. Keeping the news on 24/7 will only heighten children’s anxieties.
5. A little bit of knowledge can go a long way. The U.S. Geological Survey has a site that explains the magnitude of earthquakes in terms that children can understand.
6. The New York Times shows amazing satellite photos from the tsunami site. By moving the slider from side to side on the comparative images, older children can see the changes before and after the disaster.
7. Share an uplifting story. Even though this tragedy is so horrific, children find solace in hope. A hopeful story such as the one from the Wall Street Journal about a man who has to leave his two dogs behind, but comes back to find them safe, provides hope. Tell them about how the Save The Children organization is establishing “Child Friendly Spaces” to give children a safe place to play with their friends, while allowing parents to focus on other priorities.
8. Lead by example. Children want to help too. If kids feel that they can help alleviate the suffering, it will make them feel less hopeless. If you are donating money to help with relief efforts, involve your children in the decision-making process. They may want to designate their donation to go to children and animal related relief organizations.
9. Teach children about Japanese culture and discuss why it is important to respect and understand about the traditions of others. An understanding of a global community in times of need can be comforting.
10. Give them a hug. It goes a long way.
Just think how big the payoff would be if every parent takes this horrific tragedy and uses it to encourage global awareness, empathy and a giving spirit in their children.