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?

10 thoughts on “Helping your child understand Haiti's devastation

  1. Another great idea is to read books to children that can help them learn about Haiti. Here’s a great post from the blog Mitali’s Fire Escape: A Safe Place to Chat about Books Between Cultures: http://www.mitaliblog.com/2010/01/childrens-and-ya-books-set-in-haiti.html

    “As we focus on the disaster in Haiti, I thought I’d compile a few books written for children and teens set in that country. Stories can bring faraway people and places from the screen into our homes and hearts, and keep them there, even through information overload or compassion fatigue.”

  2. Another great idea is to read books to children that can help them learn about Haiti. Here's a great post from the blog Mitali's Fire Escape: A Safe Place to Chat about Books Between Cultures: http://www.mitaliblog.com/2010/01/childrens-and

    “As we focus on the disaster in Haiti, I thought I'd compile a few books written for children and teens set in that country. Stories can bring faraway people and places from the screen into our homes and hearts, and keep them there, even through information overload or compassion fatigue.”

  3. I still don’t know what to answer to my fifteen year old daughter. She is so depressed, most of her friends are affected by this tragedy one way or another. This is disastrous!

    Florence

  4. I still don't know what to answer to my fifteen year old daughter. She is so depressed, most of her friends are affected by this tragedy one way or another. This is disastrous!

    Florence

  5. I don’t know how to explain what happened to my country to my fifteen year old daughter. Most of her friends are affected in school by this tragedy one way or another. She is so depressed because her friends are crying. She is questioning faith, etc. I just don’t know how to deal with it. I am having a hard time believing it myself. This is disastrous!

    Florence

  6. I don't know how to explain what happened to my country to my fifteen year old daughter. Most of her friends are affected in school by this tragedy one way or another. She is so depressed because her friends are crying. She is questioning faith, etc. I just don't know how to deal with it. I am having a hard time believing it myself. This is disastrous!

    Florence

  7. I guess I don’t understand why young children need to be exposed to the news on a daily basis. I never watch TV news (I read my news online), so my kids don’t see it. We had an extra collection at church for Haiti, so after church I explained there had been a big earthquake and lots of people needed help. They have the facts. But no one needs to see pictures of bodies every day. That doesn’t help the situation at all. My kids are not sheltered to the point where they are not up on current events, but they don’t need every gory detail shoved in their faces 24/7.

  8. As a teacher of middle school, I immediately saw this, as I do whenever there is any kind of tragedy or national or world-wide fear. ((Big kids need help too) I will say that giving them an outlet – empowering them to feel that they can make a difference, and things are not beyond their control always seems to help. Right now, I am helping them organize a day just where everyone wears the same color, and they are doing this with “the little kids” and donating a dollar if they have it to “Shelterboxes” (the advantage: they can track where their shelterbox goes). It really does help to move their feelings in a more powerful direction.

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