Talking To The Kids About Haiti

My answer to the question, “do you shield your children from tragedy?” is a fluid one. It changes every day, every year.

I really want to know what you do, what you hope to do, what you might have done wrong.

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  1. When I was young, our nightly family ritual involved eating dinner together then watching the Nightly News with Tom Brokaw. Afterward, my dad and I would find the countries Tom had featured on the news, then look them up in an encyclopedia.

    Before 9-11, most of my classmates had never heard of Al Qaeda or had any idea about Middle East relations and conflicts…but I did. I remember understanding the war in Bosnia, and mobilizing my 4th grade class to help children caught in the cross fire.

    I think the trick was this: my parents, particularly my dad, taking the time to really discuss things with me, and translate things into a language I could understand. As a result, I rarely felt scared about tragic events, probably because I knew the world I lived in wasn’t marred by cultural and religious conflict, that we weren’t in the middle of a revolt and that without question, I would never be unsafe in my home or be hungry. As a matter of fact, the only story I remember being frightened by was the Jon Benet kidnapping. She was the same age as my little sister, and I remember being terrified that the same thing would happen to her.

    I’m sure there were things my parents steered me away from and didn’t engage me in, but the information they did offer and encouraged me to dig into set a precedent for the rest of my life.

    I’m still very interested in news and current events, not just what’s happening, but what’s brought us to this point. I think in cultivating a world view, it’s vital to understand the bigger picture, and I am so appreciative that my parents instilled that in me. It definitely is a route I will take with my own children one day.

  2. I have thought about this a lot. My son was about ten months when 9-11 hit. I watched him play with blocks while people jumped and the towers fell. I have had a sort of basic outline in mind for these things.

    Natural disasters are different from war/terrorist acts. It is easier to explain why earthquakes happen and living in California it serves as a good teaching tool for making sure they know what to do when we have our next earthquake. Not to mention that I was careful to explain that it is very unlikely that our buildings will collapse like those in Haiti.

    It is also a good teaching lesson for giving back and helping others.

    Man made disasters are much harder. They want answers that are harder to provide. I have tried to follow the school curriculum to an extent. We follow up on those lessons with our own discussions in an age appropriate manner.

    And we try to tailor introductions to new material based upon exposure to certain things. This really is worthy of a much longer post, but I don’t want to hijack the comments so I’ll end this here.

  3. I think talking to your kids about disasters,war, terrorist acts and other gargantuan events that are out of our control gives parents the opportunity to instil a sense of a bigger world than the one you encounter every day. On a small scale, I often pull out the old ‘some kids don’t eat today’ line when dinner is not cordon bleu, but it makes the point that we need to be more grateful. Other discussions our family often have include ‘What is rich?’, to try to communicate a grateful attitude even if we don’t go home from the mall with a full trunk.
    It all comes down to helping kids appreciate the world as a whole, and being incredibly grateful for what we have.

  4. I felt like the rug had been snatched out from under me when I found out Sylvia’s class talked about 9/11 on an anniversary in the FIRST grade. But I have since learned that once you let them out of the house for school, all bets are off, so now I have the morning news on as we get ready and we talk about everything from Rihanna and Chris to Haiti. I’d rather them get their first impression on a subject from me, and the way I want to frame it to them.

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