Raising Richmond: Talking about tragedy

In light of the recent devastation in Japan, Patience Salgado offers up some helpful insight, tips, and practical ideas for helping your kids cope with horrible events like this. We hope you’ll share your ideas as well…

Earthquakes, tsunamis, nuclear reactor dangers — it’s hard to wrap your head around such a tragedy. Add the image of children experiencing such events, and it is more than this mother’s heart can take. It is almost as if we try to carry just a tiny bit of the collective heart-burden the people of Japan are holding, and yet there is no way we possibly can because we have absolutely no idea what they are going through. Our own children — who we are now holding a little closer — are asking questions, their own hearts are trying just like ours.

What do we do? How do we help kids, and ourselves, deal with all that has unfolded? How do we talk about it all? How can we offer what we have to help each other?

Here are a few ideas for you and the people you love:

Be sensitive to kids that may already have tendencies to experience anxiety, worry, and stress.

These are often kids that have some kind of previous experience with a natural disaster or a personal trauma such as being separated from parents, illness, death, or even a traumatic divorce. Children that have learning or emotional problems may be particularly affected.

Limit media exposure but not conversation.

Very small children can be confused by repetitive images and may believe the event is happening over and over again. Because of their ego-centric development they can also anticipate or worry the event will happen to them. Turning off the TV or radio for awhile might be a good idea. Because it is probably impossible to shield kids from all exposure it is good to talk about what happened and answer all their questions.

Keep your recap of the events brief, simple, and direct. You can follow up with the reassurance of their current safety. Answer questions honestly — even admitting if you don’t know the answer. Find a trusted source and be sure to follow up with new found information.

Make a Worry Box.

There are moments that even with all the answers and reassurance we still carry fear and worry in our hearts. The ritual or act of attaching our worry to something physical may help let it go. Grab an old shoe box or any other box in your recycling bin. Gather markers, glue, pretty paper, words cut out of magazines, anything full of color that inspires you. Tell your kids that together you are going to create a box to hold all of the worries that we may be holding so we no longer have to. Decorate the boxes with words and pictures that remind us we are loved and cared for. Cut a hole in the top and keep a pad or strip of paper next to your box. Anytime someone has a concern they can write it down and slide it in the box.

Younger kids can draw pictures or have an adult dictate the words to be written on the paper. Something small and tangible like this reminds us we don’t have to hold it all.

Join the relief effort.

We can’t change the pain or grief people are enduring, but we can offer ourselves and resources to support them. Is there a way your family can do a project to raise some funds for the Red Cross? Does your kid make some of those rad thread bracelets they can sell? How about a neighborhood bake sale? What about a gallery night with your children’s art being sold? Ask your kids, I bet they have some great ideas about how you can be part of the rebuilding process by contributing or sharing. Even little children can be part of a bigger effort. Having something to do gives all of us hope. (Not sure where to start? The New York Times has compiled a great list of relief efforts.)

Information gathered from NYU Child Study Center.

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Patience Salgado

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