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How to Talk to Children About Tragedies

By Jodie Lynn

The most recent Tsunami that hit Thailand and surrounding areas of southern Asia has reached epic proportion of loss with death count climbing each day.

The loss of human lives, well-loved pets, possibilities of rapidly spreading disease, and economic disaster is staggering and a horrible tragic loss of over 60,000 people and climbing. The intensity of the magnitude of the colossal tragedy that has affected the world of the unanticipated disaster is a fusing factor for all religions, political backgrounds, economic levels, ethnic origins and does not differentiate between young, old or helpless. It does not know the difference between children, women, men or animals.

When a catastrophe of this sizable proportion happens, it affects everyone in integrating thoughts, prayers and concerns. While families across the earth may have different ways of grieving, the grieving process and plans of action to healing are not.

When something so horrific such as what has happened with this devastating Tsunami aftermath, talking to your children is important, but so is listening.

For the best results of school aged children, discussions on the recent disaster will need to be a team effort between parent and child and other relatives or school/child care officials.

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If your child goes to school or is in a childcare program, hopefully you should receive information on what the school/facility is saying to the kids themselves.

If not, ask right away. This will better equip you as a sounding board for further conversations with your family. Allow your children to ask questions and even give them a chance to answer. This will provide an opportunity for them to orally express their own ideas and confirm new information they have heard.

Keep their age in mind when discussing these issues. You do not want to scare them but they need guidelines on safety precautions and interaction with the general public, including people they know: out on the street, in the neighborhood, school buses, playgrounds, childcare facilities, shopping malls, and grocery stores, libraries, in school and even in their own home.

If the child is under the age of eight, keep them away from too many vivid TV news reports and/or newspaper or magazine pictures unless they ask to see them.

Even if you think that they are not listening, they are. A sudden reaction may not be visible in your child. Things seen and heard can lead to nightmares and night terrors and depending on how intense the child's personality is, it could go so far as to having to obtain professional help from a counselor.

Some imaginations run wild. Children have a tendency to connect bad or undesirable connotations with their immediate family. They may show signs of separation anxiety and/or resistance in leaving home for the next few weeks. Deal with it and do not make fun of their fears. They are real to them.

In fact, they may ask if you or they are going to die. If so, have a simple talk on death and dying. Depending on their age and questions, give examples of pets or resort to a science lesson on trees, flowers, etc., that has died. It might work best to offer examples about other deaths that are not in your immediate family. It is all relevant and they may be able to understand better without using real examples of situations with people that they love and care for.

For children older than nine, go into a little more detail, if you think that they can handle it and they are actually asking more questions. If not, let them talk or voice their own opinion.

Remind them that we have a strong country with much modern technology that can help us possibly avoid a similar situation.

Parents and loved ones are looking for answers on how to explain or describe the catastrophe that has just taken place and focus on our own homeland security and programs in place for a cataclysm such as this.

The safety of our families are top priority and by now, many organizations and associations which have disaster plans intact, are searching their own guidelines to make sure we have accurate action plans in place in preventing such an unbelievable misfortune should it happen in our own country.

Parents can share info with their kids on this important information. This will help kids feel safer, loved and more comfortable with what our society is putting into place for those that are wounded and suffering. Most of all that we are a caring country trying to help those that are less fortunate.

Ask them if there is something that they would like to do to try to help. Perhaps say a prayer, contribute in some way through monetary donations or some type of group effort.

Keep things at home and school as close to normal as possible. However, do not hide every little detail. Children become upset when they hear about things from friends or others when they should be hearing it from you.

If they need a little extra time in getting ready, eating or even more one on one interaction, do it so that they can feel safe. This may mean getting up little earlier and taking things slower than normal.

Children still get tremendous relief by acting out their feelings through play, role-play, coloring, cooking or some type of verbal activity. If they should suddenly fight or argue among themselves, step in with a caring and calm much needed distraction. Remember, they will look to you for your own reaction.

Let your children know that the United States, along with others, are stepping in and providing the wounded and overwhelmed people/children/animals with essential immediate supplies: food, clothing, shelter, medicine, and offer examples. Explain that these things will help in restoring their lives back to normal as soon as possible.

Always end every conversation with your child, age 1 to 21, with a hug. The power of a hug transforms feelings into a stronger and more significant gesture than any other action, especially in the time of scary, confusing and perplexing situations.

© Jodie Lynn
Jodie Lynn is an award-winning internationally syndicated family/health columnist and radio personality. Her syndicated column Parent to Parent has been successful for over 10 years and appears in newspapers, magazines, newsletters and throughout the Internet. She is a regular contributor to several sites including,,,,, and Lynn has written four books and contributed to three others, one of which was on Oprah and has appeared on NBC in a three month parenting segment. Her latest books are "Mom CEO (Chief Everything Officer) - Having, Doing and Surviving It All!" (June 2006) and "Syndication Secrets - What No One Will Tell You!" (March 2006).
Please visit for details on her new radio talk show, Inside Parenting Success.


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