I was intrigued by a Yahoo Shine poll today asking parents if they discuss natural disasters with their kids. More than half said yes, we want them to know. I liked that. I’m on the same page as 52% of America! Yay!
In September 2001 I was spending my days breastfeeding one child in the parent lounge of my Waldorf school while another child attended kindergarten. On the morning of September 11 a friend received a text about an airplane and the World Trade Center. Soon all the parents awaiting kindergarten pickup and even some teachers were in the halls, whispering. Something had happened. An hour later we all knew. By noon the official school word was out: parents were not to tell the children what had happened. A huge thing had happened that would change all our lives forever, and we were not to talk about it with our children.
I hated that. How could anyone not feel the combined grief, shock, and anger that resulted from that day’s events? I eventually broke down and told my son something age appropriate, but I think it took months. Looking back, that seems silly that I waited as long as I did, but at the time I was supporting the wishes of the school. They didn’t want children taking on things that were bigger than they could handle.
Fast forward to this week. Japan. Earthquake. Tsunami. Radiation threat. Facebook, Twitter, and probably inescapable TV news (I don’t watch, but I hear friends say that this is all over the media). It was easy enough to keep my Waldorf kid from 9/11 knowledge because we didn’t do TV and his friends were all similarly closeted in blissful childhood. But now? It’s harder to keep this kind of thing a secret. And more importantly, should we?
I think that by keeping my son from awareness of a disaster, I kept him from validating what he probably already felt — that something huge had happened and that people were sad about it. I think it’s important that our kids feel like they are part of the human community and share in the tragedy as well as the joy of being human. Age appropriately, of course.
How about you? Have you discussed Japan with your kids?
Whether you have had the talk yet or not, you might want to review these tips on talking to your kids about disaster. More thoughts on talking to kids. And FEMA has a disaster-related website just for kids.