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article imageHow Do We Explain the Haitian Disaster to Our Children?

By Carol Forsloff     Jan 22, 2010 in World
The earthquake in Haiti has been front page news on television and in the newspapers. The problems seem insurmountable and are difficult for adults, so how can they be explained to children in ways that can help them cope?
Most expert advice begins with a reminder that some children ask outright about Haiti's troubles while others internalize feelings instead. So how should all of this tragedy be dealt with in the home, within families, to help the children cope, recognizing the differences in how children express themselves?
Having a stable home is an important foundation for beginning conversation about disaster issues, whether they are faced personally by the family or are happening somewhere else. Experts say children who have a stable home life have the benefit of the nurturing that comes from that and the understanding that people may need to cope with their problems in different ways. They also learn that family members love and support each other, and the world community may be likened to a family where its members do the same thing as folks might do in a stable loving family.
Most experts underline how children learn what they live and will model parents' behaviors. So the parent sets an example by remaining calm in setting the stage for discussion. The hysterical response can frighten and intimidate children, the experts at the National Association of School Psychologists maintain, so parents and teachers should set a foundation for talking to children so they are better able to cope with their feelngs about how to handle tragedies like the earthquake in Haiti.
An organization called the Trauma Response Assistance for Children or T.R.A.C. team gives parents, caregivers and teachers advice on how to hellp children deal with personal tragedies and also tragedies that happen to others. One of their most important pieces of advice is to limit the time children are exposed to television images of suffering and violence. The organization also stresses the fact that children should not be shielded from facts but allowed to express their emotions. Those emotions should be experienced and accepted as it is unhealthy for children to have to avoid these issues or to have them magnified. Communication is key to helping children cope with tragedies.
A recent article in Newswise by, David Schonfeld, MD, Director, Division of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and Director, National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, points out specific things parents can do to help their children understand and cope with the information they are receiving about the Haitian earthquake disaster. These are the tips he gives to parents:
• Talk about the event with your child. Not talking about it makes the event even more threatening in your child’s mind. Silence suggests that what has occurred is too horrible to even speak of. Chances are he has already heard about it.
• Start by asking what your child has already heard about the events and what understanding he has reached. As your child explains, listen for misinformation, misconceptions and underlying fears or concerns.
• When children ask if it is possible that an earthquake could occur that would impact their family, they are likely really asking whether it is “likely” – when appropriate, reassure them the risk of an earthquake in your community is quite low.
• Encourage your child to ask questions, and answer those questions directly. Like adults, children are better able to cope with a crisis if they feel they understand it. Question-and-answer exchanges help ensure ongoing support as your child begins to understand the crisis and the response to it.
• Limit your child’s media exposure to images and sounds related to the disaster. Remember they often overhear or see what you are watching on t.v. or listening to on the radio.
• Work with your child to figure out a way that the child can help the people who were affected by the disaster. Children may also find benefit it helping others in need in their own community.
• Consider sharing your feelings about the event or crisis with your child. This is an opportunity for you to role model how to cope and how to plan for the future. Before you reach out, however, be sure you are able to express a positive or hopeful plan.
• If you have concerns about your child’s behavior, contact her pediatrician, other primary care provider, or a qualified mental health care specialist."
More about Earthquake haiti, Natural disasters, Helping children
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