WASHINGTON, 16 March 2011- As information increases about the devastation of Japan's earthquake and tsunami, our children will likely see disturbing news footage and have questions about this tragedy. Below are several suggestions on how to talk with children about this disaster and its impact.
These tips are provided by humanitarian organization World Vision. World Vision has worked in Japan for more than two decades and responded to the massive Kobe earthquake in 1995, and now has staff assisting in the relief efforts in Sendai.
1. Start by listening.
Find out what your child already knows. You can then respond in an age-appropriate way. The aim is not to worry them with the devastating details, but to protect them from misinformation they may have heard from friends or disturbing images they may have seen on television.
2. Provide clear, simple answers.
Limit your answer to the question asked and use simple language.
3. If you don't know the answer, admit it.
If your children ask questions that you can't answer, tell them so, and then do some research to try and help them sort it out. If they ask "Why did this have to happen?" don't be afraid to say "I don't know." The reassurance offered can be invaluable in helping your child sort through the truth that awful things happen.
4. Follow media reports or online updates privately.
Young children in particular are easily traumatized and seeing or hearing about the horrifying details of the quake may be more than they can cope with. Adults, too, should ensure they are dealing with their own emotions by talking to others, so they can continue to respond well to their children's needs.
5. Concentrate on making them feel safe.
When tragedies occur, children wonder if the same event could happen in their hometown. If it was an act of nature that could not be repeated in your area, tell children that. Placing themselves in the situations of victims is not all bad-it is a sign of empathy, an essential life skill, but watch for signs of excessive worrying.
6. Give children creative outlets.
Some children may not be prepared to speak about what they have heard, but may find drawing or other creative activities helpful to deal with their emotions and stress. Their drawings can be helpful starting points for conversation.
7. Model involvement and compassion.
Tell your child that, as a family, you will be helping the people in Japan by giving a donation to a reputable charity such as World Vision.
8. Give your child a chance to be involved.
Being involved in the solution will help relieve some of their anxiety. Invite them to contribute to the family's gift by giving something out of their piggy bank.
For more information on World Vision's efforts please visit www.worldvision.org/press.