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Talking to Kids About the Japan Disaster

As information increases about the devastation of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami, our children will likely see disturbing news footage and have questions about this tragedy. And they are full of questions: Could this happen to me? What’s going to happen to the children? Can I do anything to help the children I see on TV?

Below are several suggestions from Christian humanitarian organization World Vision on how to talk with children about this disaster and its impact. Consider giving this list to your kids’ parents as a way to minister to families in your congregation.

1. Start by listening.

Find out what the child already knows. You can then respond in an age-appropriate way. The aim is not to worry them with the devastating details but to protect them from misinformation they may have heard from friends or disturbing images they may have seen on television.

2. Provide clear, simple answers.

Limit your answer to the question asked and use simple language.

3. If you don’t know the answer, admit it.

If children ask questions that you can’t answer, tell them so, and then do some research to try to help them sort it out. If they ask, “Why did this have to happen?” don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” If you are part of a faith community, the reassurance offered there can be invaluable in helping your child sort through the truth that awful things happen.

4. Follow media reports or online updates privately.

Young children in particular are easily traumatized, and seeing or hearing about the horrifying details of the quake may be more than they can cope with. Adults, too, should ensure they are dealing with their own emotions by talking to others, so they can continue to respond well to children’s needs.

5. Concentrate on making them feel safe.

When tragedies occur, children wonder if the same event could happen in their hometown. If it was an act of nature that could not be repeated in your area, tell children that. Placing themselves in the situations of victims is not all bad—it is a sign of empathy, an essential life skill, but watch for signs of excessive worrying.

6. Give children creative outlets.

Some children may not be prepared to speak about what they have heard but may find drawing or other creative activities helpful to deal with their emotions and stress. Their drawings can be helpful starting points for conversation.

7. Model involvement and compassion.

Tell the child, as a family or as a church, how you will be helping the people in Japan, perhaps by giving a donation to a reputable charity such as World Vision or by praying for those affected and those helping.

8. Give your child a chance to be involved.

Being involved in the solution will help relieve some of their anxiety. Invite them to pray with you or contribute to the gift by giving something out of their piggy bank.

For more information on World Vision’s efforts, visit www.worldvision.org/press.   

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Toni Ridgaway is a content editor for the Outreach Web Network, including churchleaders.com and SermonCentral.com.