Talking about tragedy with children

Audrey writes:

The dreadful tragedies in Burma and China are all over the news these past few days. Even if you don't watch TV, it's difficult to filter the radio and the newspapers for the young ones in your family. Our children can be finely tuned to every fluctuation in our emotional state. We worry, they worry, even if they don't know why. I believe we can wait for our children to ask difficult questions when they are ready. But we can create a comfortable atmosphere for them to ask by being open and honest about our own lives in an age appropriate manner.

Answer your child's concerns by showing them that you are donating to help the relief effort. Let them donate too. Volunteering in their own community helps children feel connected and capable in their world.
Young children are concerned about their own safety. Tell them that they are safe. Use a map of the world to show them where China and Burma are. You can also explore geology and weather together. Knowledge is a great antidote to fear. If they ask, you can tell them your own emergency plans. If your child would like to have some sort of emergency kit under his bed, help him make one.

Make sure, by word and action that your children know that you will take care of them.

Sharon responds:

For children aged 4 and younger, I think it is appropriate to wait for them to ask questions regarding situations like natural disasters. I found that when I initiate the conversation I tend to tell them more than they wanted to know and I end up scaring them by telling them about situations they hadn’t imagined.

For example, my son once saw a news program about some street flooding that showed a dog stranded on top of a picnic table. He asked me if the dog was going to be all right. I explain that it had rained really hard and the river overflowed and a whole neighborhood was just full of water. For weeks, every time it rained my son wanted me to get his “floaties” from the shed. He really had just wanted to know what happened to the dog.

Kathy replies:

I think the most important thing is to answer their questions in an age appropriate manner, and don't give them more than they ask for. I, like Sharon, make that mistake all the time. I am so happy they are talking to me, I want to keep the conversation going! I am constantly reminding myself to be like the CIA, and operate on a need to know basis. Tell them no more than they need to know, and it usually works out just fine. That's usually all they can handle, and it makes it a teachable moment, instead of a stressful one.

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