Moms Talk: Can Kids Handle Coverage and Discussion of Tragedies Like Japan's?

Should parents shelter their kids from news of crises like the earthquake, tsunami and explosions at nuclear plant Fukushima Daiichi in Japan?

“Mommy, can I watch Busytown Mysteries before school?”

“Sure, let me turn it on," I said.

But when I turned the television on, I saw pictures of utter destruction in Japan caused by a 9.0 earthquake, a tsunami and a series of nuclear meltdowns.  I quickly flipped the channel to more age-appropriate content for my toddler children and then sneaked off to read my phone for news updates, remembering what it was like living through the Northridge earthquake.  Only Japan’s was much, much worse. 

Later that day, my 4-year-old daughter asked why houses and cars were sailing down the street (my 3-year-old son just thought it was cool).  It was then I realized that even a glimpse on television would require explanations about the seriousness of natural disasters.  My children are aware of earthquake kits and that the earth moves should Mother Nature decides it's time.  My children understand that Mommy keeps a pile of clothes and flashlights under every bed (a lesson learned during aforementioned Northridge earthquake), and little earthquake kits scattered throughout the house and garage (again, lesson learned: Never keep things in one place.  Murphy’s Law dictates that everything will fall and block the location where you stored essentials).  But beyond that, they really have no concept.  In a way I’m glad. On the other hand, I want my children to understand so that they can react appropriately should something happen and they are on their own temporarily. 

But how does one convey the seriousness to toddlers without giving them nightmares and showing pictures and videos from the news?  Should we shelter our children from the true gravity of natural disasters?  Both of my kids are very sensitive to anything remotely disturbing, so I’ve chosen to simply regale them with tales of my experiences during the Northridge earthquake in hopes that they will remember what to do and where to go when an earthquake does happen.  But I’m curious to know if there are more creative or direct ways to approach this topic.  How have you communicated with your children? 

Heather Birdsell March 16, 2011 at 08:57 PM
My little one is not quite 2 yet, so thankfully we don't have to have too deep of a discussion...yet. Like most things, I plan to take the simple, straight forward approach. There's no sense in delving out all of the gory details, but laying out what happens and what to do when it happens is a good start. I'm sure they will have lots of questions, so that can help the conversation.
Sharlene Earnshaw March 17, 2011 at 05:37 AM
I also went through the Northridge earthquake and still sleep with clothing right next to my bed. My kids haven't picked up on the news footage of the earthquake and honestly I am glad. I am not exactly how to explain something like that to a child when I have a hard enough time grasping it as an adult. I think that its best to probably let them lead the conversation and try not to overload them with more information then their brains are ready to absorb. The last thing I want to do is give my kids an excuse to climb into my bed in the middle of the night. :)


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