Helping your child understand Haiti's devastation

Haitian flagThere is no easy way to talk to children about the destructiveness caused by natural disasters. Thrive spoke with Children’s psychiatrist Stuart Goldman, MD, about how to talk to your children about Haiti’s devastating earthquake. Below are excerpts from that conversation and information from Children’s Psychiatry Department’s pamphlet “Helping Children Cope with Frightening Events without Frightening Them.”

Parents often don’t give children a chance to talk. In situations like this, kids feel helpless, which can lead to feeling very overwhelmed by the situation. Parents need to combat these feelings of helplessness by having conversations with their kids about the devastation in Haiti.

In general, you want to limit media exposure and set aside a quiet time to talk with your kids.  Start the conversation with an open-ended question: “What have you heard or seen on television about the earthquake in Haiti?”

Most adults have an easier time talking than they do listening, but it is important to let your children talk and for you, as a parent, to listen to what they have to say. Your child will then listen to your thoughtful and caring answers to their questions and be comforted by them.

For children under 8 years old, try to keep the conversation as simple as possible. Don’t go into details of the earthquake, but rather focus on the safety of your family and the people closest to you. Assure them that everything possible is being done to keep your child safe.

For children 8 to 12 years old, you can discuss more details of the earthquake. These are valuable pieces of information for children this age that help them understand the scope of the events.

For adolescents, ask what they know about the earthquake and explain the pieces that are missing or that they have wrong. Expect discussions of future implications. Adolescents have the ability to discuss events on a more sophisticated level but still need emotional support and reassurance about their safety.

Suggesting a way your children can help in Haiti’s time of need can be a very valuable way of empowering them during this scary time. Your children can run a clothing drive, raise funds for the Red Cross and write letters of support. If your family is religious, say a prayer of support.

Do you have any tips for how to talk to children about frightening events?