World Tragedy to Children
By Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller
6 year old has just seen video of real children being washed out
to sea. Your teen sits transfixed watching images of people clinging
to trees, mothers wailing as they discover dead children in an endless
line of unclaimed bodies, and babies crying hysterically for their
mothers. At the dinner table your 5th grader asks, "Can anything
like that happen to us, dad?"
is a parent to respond? What should you say? What should you do?
How do you deal with your child's fears without increasing them?
Is it possible to reassure your child at a time when you, yourself,
are horrified by the images of intense pain and grief you see in
the hearts and on the faces of parents half way around the world?
you are filled with empathy for the survivors who have lost loved
ones, homes, and jobs. Yes, you are extremely grateful that your
children are safe in your comfortable home as the horrific images
continue to flow onto your television screen. And yes, you can use
this incredibly tragic situation to help your children learn lessons
of love, compassion, and of the indestructible nature of the human
children have seen the images of tragedy and suffering it is necessary
to debrief it with them. The sooner the better. By debriefing, we
mean answering their questions, providing information, asking questions,
and reflecting their feelings.
the scientific information for which they are asking. Tell your
children in age appropriate language what you know about how nature
can create a tidal wave, tornado, hurricane, volcanic eruption or
whatever the tragedy might be. Keep this part factual. You can even
use books or magazines to assist you in providing information.
your children the effects of the natural disaster. Talk about the
destruction that was created as a result of nature's fury. This
is a good time to make the connection between cause and effect.
Limit what you say to what was seen on TV or directly questioned
by your children. Too much information at this point can increase
their fright and worry. The goal here is to be brief, accurate,
and provide them with the specific information for which they are
looking. If you fail to give them information, if you fail to debrief,
children's brains will fill in the blanks. Better to fill in those
gaps yourself with factual knowledge than to have your children
fill them with their imaginations.
on feelings. Your children will be seeing a wide variety of feelings
expressed on TV. They will see sadness, panic, grief, relief, joy,
depression, frustration and desperation, among others. In addition,
they will personally be full of unexpressed and often unrecognized
you sense they are feeling empathy, sadness, or pain, say so. Tell
them, "You seem deeply saddened about this," or "You
sound scared and frightened that this might happen to us."
Children are starving for feeling recognition and this is a great
time to supply it.
strong emotion is shown on TV, honor it by talking about it. Mention
the extreme sadness and grief that is shown there. Refrain from
being an adult who ignores the grief of others and refuses to acknowledge
it. Do not treat hurting human beings like they are invisible. Talk
about your feelings. Tell your children about the sympathy, empathy,
and pain you feel for the loss of others. Allow your children to
hear and see you express feelings. In so doing, you are helping
them acquire a feeling vocabulary that they can use their entire
you communicate your feelings and honor the feelings of your children
for people around the world, you teach them important lessons about
the human condition. You help them appreciate how we are all more
alike than different. You help them see that we are all connected,
no matter how distant we seem. You help them learn we are all one.
you go through this debriefing process, encourage your children
look for the helpers. Helpers always come. There are always people
who step forth to help. In the case of a major tragedy there will
be many helpers, playing out a variety of roles. Point them out
to your children. When small problems occur in their own lives they
will have learned to look for the helpers. There are helpers at
school, on the playground, in the mall, and on the highway when
our car breaks down. Learn to look for helpers and they will be
more likely to show up when you need them.
with your children how you as a family can be helpers during this
tragedy. Perhaps you can send money, give blood, say prayers, send
love, or call the Red Cross to see what kinds of items can be donated.
Choose one or more ways to be helpers as a family and allow your
children to help implement that strategy with you. Pray together.
Let them observe as you give blood. Take them shopping for the toiletry
items needed by the Red Cross. Let them help you address the envelope
that sends the check. Get them involved in the process of being
a helper. Let them see and be love in action.
deepest sympathies and heartfelt prayers go out to the families
directly affected by the most recent tsunami. The scope and depth
of the pain and heartache of catastrophic tragedies like this are
not measurable. Yet, those same horrific events can be used for
good if we help our children learn about feelings, looking for the
helpers, appreciating the connectedness of all human beings, and
the beauty of one heart reaching out to another across the continents.
We can help them learn that around the world is a long way away
and still very much a part of our neighborhood.
Moorman and Thomas Haller are the authors of "The 10 Commitments:
Parenting with Purpose," (available from Personal Power Press
at toll free 877-360-1477, amazon.com, and bookstores everywhere).
They also publish a FREE email newsletter for parents. Subscribe
to it at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.chickmoorman.com