By RUTH LIEW
BARELY into the first quarter of the year, we have witnessed natural disasters from Christchurch in New Zealand to Northern Japan’s Sendai. Media frenzy has depicted horrific images and delivered incessant reports aired over TV, radio and the Internet every day.
Some children who are exposed to the news of the disasters may develop fear and stress, thinking that this can also happen to them. There are also those who have questions about the catastrophe and need some reassurance from their closest kin.
When we first heard the news about Christchurch’s earthquake, we were very worried. My husband’s brother was visiting the city that very day it happened. Fortunately, we got news that he had left the city on the same day just before the earthquake happened.
Children reflect their parents’ feelings and reactions to the news of disasters. They observe the adults’ responses carefully and make their own conclusions of the severity. It is important that parents make time to talk as a matter-of-factly and calmly to their children.
In our family, we discussed the happenings and conducted searches on the Internet and resource books to know more about earthquakes and tsunamis. Our family prayers focused on those whose lives are affected and suffering.
You have to attune your explanation of what is happening to your child according to his level of understanding. Children in the early childhood years need to know only simple facts and be reassured that there are people helping those in need.
While the primary age children may develop their own questions. Listen to your child and help him put his thoughts into perspective. If he does not know where to start, let him know that he can turn to you whenever he is ready.
Watching and reading the news together is the best way to monitor what your child is exposed to. You are right beside him when he has a question and offer a response when he makes a comment. You are also able to filter through what is appropriate for your child to know at his age.
While our hearts are saddened by the stories of victims in the disaster-hit places, we must also highlight the heroic acts of those who forsake their own safety to save others. There are also the good samaritans who have acted quickly and came to their aid. Tell these stories to your children.
Let your children know that there is positive light in this bleak situation. We may live in an uncertain world filled with cruelty. Telling children how bad it is can be rather traumatic to them. With your very young children, end your explanations with something hopeful.
So, instead of stating every detail of the cruel world to your child, plant a seed of faith in him. Reassure your child that what they hear and see will not happen to them. You cannot guarantee 100% but your child needs to know this to get by.
For older children, you must be persistent in finding out their opinions and feelings on the matter. It may take some time for children to process all that is happening around them. They may ask more questions when they are ready at a later time.
My teenage daughter recently wrote an essay that shared her thoughts of her grandmother’s passing. She did not talk much after her death and seemed to cope well. I now finally discovered how she made her closure.
Keep an open mind about your children’s feelings and thoughts. You may think that when they have no questions, they are not worried or afraid of what they heard and seen. Ask them about what their friends are saying in school or in facebook. They may be affected when they hear many people saying that the end is here.
Be sure to supervise your child’s television-watching at this time. If your child is constantly seeing the horrific pictures of the disaster repeated on screen, he may get disturbed and easily frightened. Switch off the TV when it gets too overwhelming for your young child. But continue to talk to your child and help him find a way of gaining control.
We must help our children to learn how human resiliency can overcome calamities and end up stronger. Instead of just being negatively affected by the news of the disasters, seize the moment to model compassion to your child. Find ways for your family to contribute to the victims’ aid fund or helping out in his neighbourhood to those who are in need.