Talking to Kids About Haiti

When I think back on my third grade teacher I remember a smile always on her face and a twinkle in her eye. Even as third graders we knew that she loved being a teacher and loved being there with us. She was kind and sweet and excited about teaching. That may have been why she was over the moon when NASA announced that they’d be sending a schoolteacher into space where she would be teaching lessons live the space shuttle. It was a big deal and all of us kids were pretty excited, but no one was more excited than our teacher.

She arranged to have a TV set up in our classroom so that we could watch the launch live as it happened. So we could watch history happen. I was sitting cross-legged on the floor of my classroom right next to my teacher as the countdown begun.

A few moments later the Challenger exploded right in front of our third grade eyes. I looked at my teacher who sat starring at the TV. The color was gone from her face and she looked over at us, her class. No one knew what to say.

At that moment a piece of my childhood innocence disappeared. I would never be able to watch a shuttle launch, or even a regular plane take off, without holding my breath. The image of that shuttle exploding in front of me would forever be a picture I would always have filed away in my brain.

I wouldn’t for a minute try to compare the Challenger Explosion with the tragedy in Haiti. There really is no comparison. But at the same time how that image affected me as a child has been on my mind lately as I wrestle with how much I should let my kids know about Haiti.

My daughter is only four, which is still pretty young to be talking about tens of thousands of victims in a horrific natural disaster. But my son, he’s six. He knows what’s going on, kind of. And we have wrestled with how much we should tell him and show him?

I don’t want to scare him. I don’t want to make a piece of his innocence disappear. But at the same time, I don’t want to shield him from human suffering like this either. Why? Because how will I ever instill the need and desire to stop human suffering like this if he doesn’t know it’s there?

I remember vividly  USA for Africa being a huge presence during my childhood. Most of you will remember that signature song, We Are the World that topped the chart for months. We were inundated with pictures of starving children and families in Africa. Living in poverty with nothing. Did that steal away a piece of my innocence? Not at all. If anything my childhood innocence coupled with a strong desire to help kids across the globe gave me an almost naïve idea that I could help. That I could make a difference. And THAT idea has stayed with me my entire life. In fact, it is a part of what drives me each and every day.

So, I decided to sit with my son and watch CNN for a few minutes. It wasn’t the worst footage I’d seen of Haiti, but it was bad. I explained to him what had happened and how people were trying to help. He didn’t say anything until after a few minutes, “Mom, can we turn this off now?” I said yes. He didn’t seem very affected by it and I thought he’d simply lost interest. I shrugged and turned it off.

A few minutes later he turned on the Wii. When I walked out of the kitchen and back into the family room he was playing a game on Wii Resort sports where he flies a plane. I stood there for a moment watching him and then suddenly he said, “Mom, look there’s the island where the earthquake happened!” He pointed to one of the animated islands in the distance which he was attempting to fly his plane to. “What are you doing?” I asked, thinking he was simply turning the tragic footage I had just shown him into a game. “I’m bringing them stuff.” He answered. “Blankets, clothes and lots of food.” He said as smiled and kept his focus on the game.

My heart filled with pride. He got it. My son GOT IT. And I knew that in those few minutes of watching CNN I had planted a seed that will hopefully continue to grow and flourish as he becomes an adult. I guess deciding how much we want to explain to and show our kids about Haiti is really something that depends on the child. Sometimes, like many moments in parenting, you just have to make these decisions on the fly, like I did, and hope that somehow they get it. That sometimes life is tragic. But sometimes out those tragedies comes more heroes and sheroes and stories of strength then any of their fairy tale or superhero books ever could.

How have YOU handled talking about the situation in Haiti with your kids? Have you let them see some of the news or have you avoided it?

Text “Haiti” to 90999 to send a $10 donation to the Red Cross, through an effort backed by the U.S. State Department. Funds will go to support American Red Cross relief efforts in Haiti or simply contact the American Red Cross to find other ways you can help.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Marci Castellani
    Jan 18, 2010 @ 17:42:25

    Meghan,
    Good subject! While I haven’t been able to teach my 5 year old about Haiti yet (he is still in Brazil), We do take him to see areas in Brazil when we go that are imopverished. We bring toys and clothes from the US for the children there who do not have what we take for granted here.
    I also remember Hurricane Katrina, my older son who was 6 at the time had lost his first tooth the evening the hurricane touched down. In the morning he awoke to find $5 under his pillow in exchange for his tooth. He came down stairs truly excited because he could donate his $5 to the releif efforts for the victims of the Hurricane. Just by allowing him to watch the news briefly and explaining in a simple way what happened, he learned compassion and empathy. To this day, he is the first to suggest we do something for those who are having a hard time.
    I think it is important to let your children see some parts of suffering- but not too much – and explain it in an age appropriate way. This teaches some very important morals and life lessons such as empathy, compassion, generosity and GRATITUDE that they will carry with them the rest of their lives.

    Reply

  2. Alli
    Jan 25, 2010 @ 20:54:21

    At whyzz.com, the source for kid-friendly answers on how the world works, we’ve partnered with qualified experts for help in discussing some of the tougher topics with kids ages 4-8; here’s our advice and talking points for helping children talk about global disasters:
    http://whyzz.com/the-earthquake-in-haiti
    http://whyzz.com/global-disasters-helping-children-cope

    Reply

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