‘Mom, I’m scared of tsunamis’
With endless television footage of disaster and tragedy, children can feel anxious and confused. Here’s how to handle the bad news stories.
'Mom, can a tsunami happen here?

For children who can read, news posters are a hazard of the early morning school run.

The latest ones are focused on the disaster in Japan, the recent huge news story that has dominated every television set and lamp post. And children see more, and take in more than we give them credit for.

Parents are coping with the bombardment of bad news as well as we can, but we really can’t prepare children when we’re not prepared ourselves, says Pat Coombe, a counsellor at The Parent Centre.

Keeping perspective is vitally important, she says: ‘Don’t let them spend hours watching the disaster coverage. It can be bewildering and frightening for them, especially younger children who don’t have a real sense of distances. Do use the opportunity to teach them about the basic science.’

Don’t deny their anxieties or tell them they’re silly, Pat advises. ‘They need support, not denial.’

A mom says

‘Be as honest as possible, giving them the facts which are appropriate for their age and level of understanding. Then point out all the positive things in their own lives and how much they have to be grateful for. Make them aware of the bad but encourage them to focus on the good in life,’ says mom Tracy Todd, replying to a question on Parent24’s Facebook page.

Keep it factual

Janine Shamos, educator and therapist for the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), advises:

What's important is to make sure that you explain the context to children and talk them through what is happening. Many parents think they can shelter their kids and not deal with it - but kids see things and hear what's going on so your first step is to be honest and address it.
  • Talk through the positive stories - like in the Japanese case for example, the woman who rescued all the kids.
  • Explain to kids, particularly with natural disasters, that South Africa is lucky because we don't have the kind of weather they do in other parts of the world. Depending on the child's age, you can explain in greater detail - even set them a task or do it as a family to find out more about earthquakes and tsunamis.
  • Realise that children - even teens - get affected by the news and a disaster like the one in Japan may cause anxiety, nightmares etc. Address these pro-actively and never say, ‘What are you so upset about, you don't even know these people?’
  • Many people, and kids, feel they want to DO something to help. Let them write a note or draw a picture - and post it to the Red Cross. Or make a donation together to a suitable aid organisation.
  • Let kids know that there are security measures in place for natural disasters.

Does your family have a plan for dealing with the unexpected? Here are 5 ways to be ready for emergencies.

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