How does a tragedy like Haiti affect our kids?

As parents, we don’t always realize just how much our kids understand the consequences of events that happen around the world — however tragic they might be. Don’t underestimate your children. They probably have a lot of questions that need to be answered.

Most children want to know they are safe. In the case of the earthquake in Haiti, it’s important to remind them that this is happening very far away from where we live. It’s true that sad things happen to children sometimes, but reassure your child that he or she is safe and that you take your job of protecting him or her seriously.

Remind your child that many countries are helping the people of Haiti. In fact, this is a good opportunity to get your child involved. Think about something your child can do to help like donate a toy or blanket, money from his or her piggy bank. Take some canned foods to either a specific relief site or a food pantry. Any little thing your child can do will contribute to his or her sense of being the “helper” and not helpless.

Be sure to limit exposure to television coverage, and watch it with your child. This gives you the opportunity to turn off the TV if the visuals become too distressing. It also gives you the opportunity to find out what your child really is questioning, which might be different than what you think. Keep in mind that children may need to ask a question more than once as they try to understand the complicated issues involved.

–Kimberly Gerlach, LCSW, CTS, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine Center, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin