Last Tuesday, when the 7.0 magnitude earthquake occurred in Haiti on January 12, 2010, it shook the entire world. As more and more information comes in and we get a better picture of the tragedy, our children are affected as well. A disaster of that scope is very scary and your children may be afraid and even uncertain about their own safety and the safety of their family and friends.
It may seem easier to ignore difficult or tragic events. You may get wrapped up in your own concerns, your own pain, fear and anger. However, your child is aware of what is happening around them and when those events turn scary, they may become concerned and afraid. Your child needs you; they need to hear from you that their feelings are normal, that their reactions are normal. It also helps for them to know that other people feel the same way that they do. It is very important that your child knows that there are people who are working to help people who are victims of disasters. It is also vital that they know those people are working to make certain that they are safe.
The first step in helping your child deal with a tragic event is to gather correct information from reliable, valid sources. Knowing the facts can go a long way in helping them feel at ease. Sit them down and talk to them. Try to answer their questions and find the answers to questions that you can't answer. Sites that are excellent sources of information include:
However, don't inundate them with information. Allow your child to guide the discussion. Offer the resources and some information; then let them ask questions while you answer or you look for the answers together.
Let Them Know it's OK to be Afraid and Even Angry
When the world as you know it is upset or even shattered, it is normal to be scared and even mad as heck. Let your child know that these feelings are OK and very normal. Talk to them about the way they are feeling. Address the fears and show them the web sites and news reports that detail the response efforts. If they are scared, ask them what it is that scares them. Are they afraid that something similar will happen to them? Even if the fear seems outlandish, don't belittle your child for feeling that way. Just talk with them about it and reassure them.
It is important, though, that you don't give them unrealistic reassurance. If you live in an area that resides on an active fault line, don't tell them that an earthquake will never happen. If you live on the Gulf Coast, don't tell your child that they will never experience a hurricane. The truth is, you can't predict whether a natural disaster will occur or not. Take a look at the FEMA website and view the page on disasters (http://www.fema.gov/news/disaster_totals_annual.fema). There are disasters that have been declared that many people aren't even aware occurred. Keep it real.
Reassurance is very important to your child. Natural disasters are so unpredictable and cannot be controlled. This alone can be very frightening. Your child may fear that they aren't safe anywhere because earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes and other disasters can usually occur at any time without notice.
In Haiti, there are numerous search and rescue teams on the ground and en route to the affected area. They are searching for survivors and helping get the people to safety. Survivors are being evacuated from the area to staging areas where they can get help, food, water, medical attention and other things that they need. Your child needs to know that these things are happening. Give them solid facts and show them that things are being done to help the people of Haiti.
Find ways to Take Action
At this time, officials are saying that the best thing people can do is make monetary donations to aid the relief efforts. There are several sites that are accepting donations. There are also many sites that are pure scams. Talk with your child about what you can do and find an organization that you both like so you can make a donation together.
Three sites that you can trust:
Visit UNICEFUSA (Unicef is absorbing all their administration costs so that every $1 will go to Unicefs efforts to help children in Haiti)
http://clintonbushhaitifund.org/ (click on the red "Donate Now" button in the upper right corner)
http://www.redcross.org/ (click on "Giving and Get Involved" to see how you can donate and help)
http://www.interaction.org/crisis-list/earthquake-haiti (find organizations to donate to)
Local churches and voluntary organizations may also be doing things to help the relief efforts. They may be collecting blankets, supplies and commodities to help the survivors. You may choose to become involved as a family and help collect the items, organize them or coordinate the transportation of the goods to the areas where they are needed or to the organizations that can disburse them.
Make a Plan
Your child will feel more comforted if you make a disaster plan together. Bad things can happen at any time, but if your family is prepared and you have a plan, not only will you all feel more secure, you will also be less likely to panic should a disaster occur.
Tragedies like the one in Haiti get us all thinking "that could happen to me." Your child is no different. Kids are very aware of the things that are happening in the world around them. The internet brings tons of information directly to them, some of that information is valid and some is completely erroneous or even harmful. Social networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace, offer a great deal of information through conversations of members and profiles created specifically on the topic. But not all of that information is accurate and some can be quite frightening to your child. That is why it is up to you, as a parent, to guide your child through this time, to help them find the answers to their questions and to reassure them that they are safe. Kids know a lot more than you may realize. The best thing that you can do is be there for them.