Friday, March 30, 2012

Disasters in the News: How to Help Your Family Cope

Source: Agence France-Presse (AFP);
It has already been one year since the devastating tsunami hit Japan on March 11, 2011. The anniversary reminded me of watching the news story unfold in the safety of our home in the United States.

My husband and I were engrossed in the TV as media images of waves that devoured cars, boats, homes and people were broadcast. And our children were playing in the room. The images were graphic, and my older daughter, then age six, was paying attention. She became visibly distraught by what she was seeing. I don't remember if we turned the TV off or if I took the girls into another room after that. But the damage was done, and she was disturbed and frightened by the disaster for two days.

It's no wonder. Experts say that the nightly news is one of the most violent and harmful programs that a young child can be exposed to. (See TV Violence, an article by Common Sense Media.) Children younger than seven - and even older, sensitive children - are vulnerable to feeling threatened or upset emotionally, and can "easily confuse facts with fantasies or fears."

While my husband and I were grappling with the TV issue at our house, Kim Lee, a Director of Children's Education for our Presbyterian church, was compiling some information to help families deal with the events. She has graciously allowed me to use her advice for this blog. Whatever your faith, I hope you will find this advice as valuable as I did. And when another disaster strikes, I hope you can draw on this advice to help your own family in the context of your own faith.
With all the news coverage about the disaster unfolding in Japan, our children may be inundated and overexposed to news coverage, pictures, and frightening conversation.  We, along with our children, are called to be Christ’s light in the world for our brothers and sisters in Japan.  It is important provide careful and thoughtful spaces to talk about and act out our concern and love for those who are suffering.  To that end, I have gathered some resources from the Presbyterian Resource Center in effort to help guide you as you journey along with your children through the horror and uncertainty that marks disasters. 
  • Be available for conversation with your children.
  • Provide a safe and quiet space for them to talk and express their concerns. Important faith values that are understood by children include the personal and protective love of God. Stories of Jesus’ love for others and His parables of care are especially helpful.
  • Allow children to offer their own prayers and reflections through art, song, story, and poem.
  • Older children can look for other Scripture stories and prayers that offer thoughts of God’s power and love.
  • Write and/or draw letters and prayers for children’s worship.
  • Light a special “healing” candle each evening for family devotions or meal times. Speak of the Light of Christ and how God’s love will never go away.
  • Limit exposure to TV and other media. This is especially important for younger children, for whom the devastation in the media can be particularly frightening. If you have an older school-age child, you may want to watch the news together and talk about what you're seeing.
  • Acknowledge your child's feelings. Reassure your child that what is happening is scary and confusing, and validate your child's many feelings.
  • Increase quiet time. Add quiet time for the family in the evenings or make reading and quiet time before bed longer.
Internet Resources
Thanks, Kim!

Note: Additional advice for parents can be found in the article Explaining the News to Our Kids.

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