Natural disasters, while natural, can certainly be cause for concern. While the world continues to reel with news of the 8.9 Earthquake and subsequent Tsunami that hit Japan on March 11, 2011, don’t be surprised if your son or daughter is feeling the impact too. Even if you live in an area physically untouched by this event.
With steady news coverage your kids are bound to have heard at least something about this huge event… and depending on your child’s age and awareness level, could be causing them some alarm. I urge you to be sensitive to their concern, honest with what you share and open to them needing a bit more reassurance than usual from you.
Because life does throw surprises at us, know that talking openly with your child about any of his/her concerns give them an opportunity to learn how to better cope with the ever-changing nature of life.
Their age may dictate the level of their understanding. Young children who see something on television may not be able to understand that an event is taking place far away from them so genuine fear can be triggered that they and their family are in immediate danger too.
Also keep in mind that their unique temperament and dominant sense will come into play around how an event like this lands on them.
The highly tactile child, one tuned to physical cues, who sees images of tsunami while it’s raining in their own backyard is far more likely to make a connection that isn’t exactly accurate but will cause worry, so you may notice them being particularly clingy.
The mere idea of their family being ripped from their arms is virtually unbearable to a tactile child, so seeing images of people being separated or losing their homes is something you might want to avoid exposing them to. They may be needing to keep you physically in their site. You may even notice a child who had seemed to have outgrown a favorite stuffed animal carrying it around once again.
Here’s a suggestion: give them something active to do. Have them go with you to the bank to get or make a donation to some organization designed to help the people needing help. Or have them go through their closet and drawers for outgrown clothing they could donate to charity.
The highly sensitive/empathetic child, those sensitive taste and smell kids, will be looking to you for cues… responding first to your emotions before they even absorb any facts. They are feeling so sorry for the ‘victims’… and almost everyone will be seen as a victim to them.
You can help them best by keeping the focus on relief efforts… showing them pictures and stories of the many, many people reaching out to help while minimizing their exposure to images of the event itself. Allow them to help in whatever capacity possible. Even if it’s sending a card with good wishes. These kids feel things very deeply and tend to hold onto the feelings until they are sure everything is all right. Support them by sharing what’s ‘right’ as much as possible.
Visual kids should be prepared for the images they may see on the television, in newspapers, or online. They’re highly sensitive to what they see and tend to put themselves right in the middle of whatever they’re observing, whether it’s on video or in their actual, physical environment. You might want to minimize their exposure and balance it by doing some research into similar natural disasters of the past and showing them how communities rebuild, reassuring them that life goes on.
And please, if your child is one of those auditory kids, don’t add to the barrage they are experiencing as the story is repeated and repeated and repeated! They’re likely to have the experience of ‘never-ending-disaster’ with no escape. Anxiety will creep higher and higher for them, not just from the event itself but from being repeatedly pounded with the sound of the story. If this is your kid please save your news watching time for moments when he’s not around. Let the auditory kid ask lots of questions and give him reasonable answers. It might help to let her tell the story in her own words as this can help her relax while she accommodates and assimilates the story into her newly expanded world view. This is the child most likely to recreate the event in play. Let it happen… it’s all part of their process. Offer guidance from the background if necessary, reminding them it happened far away or whatever will be true, yet help them relax.
Knowing your child’s interpretation of world events can go a long way in helping you help them to stretch and grow without becoming totally overwhelmed. You can teach them empathy for others situations while you stay empathetic to theirs.