The Earthquake in Haiti: How to Explain Disaster to Your Kids

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The Earthquake in Haiti: How to Explain Disaster to Your Kids

In the past week, following the devastating 7.0 earthquake in Haiti, updates of what’s happening there and what can or should be done to help has infiltrated the topic of conversation online, on television, and even in the schools. Many parents have come to me with some concern for how things like this may affect their children. They fear that letting children know about things like this can be scary to young children and they are somewhat upset with the schools for letting the kids in on the latest world crisis. 

“Won’t this make my child anxious?”

“It makes the world an uncertain and scary place … how do I make her feel safe again?”

 “Aren’t they better off just not knowing?”

These are examples of just a few of the questions that many of the parents writing in to me have asked. Hiding reality from your child is not the answer. Remember that your children are stronger than you think, and a lot of the fears you have about letting your child know are your fears that you are projecting onto them. As parents, we want to paint the picture of the world being this perfectly safe place where bad things never happen. At some point, our children find out that this is not true and they are now completely unprepared for the reality that lies before them. You don’t want to hide scary things from them. You want to teach them how to handle their fears appropriately. If you keep them in a bubble, free from anything scary, then how will they have the tools that they need to handle their fears once they become adults? It’s like guiding them through the world with blindfolds on only to one day take the blindfold off and then say “Fooled ya!”

So how do we handle the questions and fears that our children may have about what’s happening in Haiti or any disaster?

Focus On The Positive: I know you must be wondering what is positive about a disaster where thousands of people have died and an entire nation is basically destroyed, however, let’s just consider the worldwide relief efforts that have been put into place. According to a report today by CNN, over $210 million has already been raised by charities supporting relief efforts in Haiti. When I sat with my children just last night watching some of the coverage on television, I said things like, “Look at all the wonderful people out there who have rushed in to help.” I spoke to them extensively, not so much about the devastation, but more about how the world has come together to help. Letting them know about the organizations, doctors, charities, and people who are giving what they can to help, helps them to feel security in knowing that we are never alone. That there is always help in every situation and that there is so much good and kindness in the people around us.

Encourage Them To Ask Questions: Allow your child to express their fears and curiosity about what happened. Most likely, they will want to know how far away Haiti is or if this can ever happen to them. If you live in a place where earthquakes don’t happen, then just simply explain that. If you live in a place where earthquakes do happen from time to time, focus on the fact that we have advancements in technology here that help us as we are a wealthier country. Focus on facts that will ease their worrying that the same thing can happen to them.

Be Aware of Signs Of Guilt: Your child wouldn’t be a normal functioning person if he/she didn’t have some thoughts that may make them feel guilty. These thoughts could be as simple as, “Thank god I don’t live in Haiti.” Or, “I’m glad it’s not happening to me!” Let your child know that it’s totally normal to have these thoughts and not to feel bad about it. Actually feeling grateful for what you have and for your health and safety are all positive and healthy thoughts for all of us to have.

Get Them Involved In The Relief Efforts: There are so many different ways to help the families in need, and having your child participate in that will make them feel good about themselves and give them a sense of hope for the earthquake victims. They feel like they can make a difference and that is empowering. You can contact your child’s school to see if they are doing anything for the students to get involved in, or check online for the latest ways to make donations.