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Why the tsunami – and other natural disasters?
Issues to think about
Whenever there is a natural disaster, the television and other media depict graphic scenes of devastation and carnage. We may all be in shock. Children's questions are likely to be tough to answer but honesty and keeping communication lines open is essential. We may need to revisit previous discussions as events unfold.
Q. Can we just ignore the news and hope the children don't see scary images?A. It's tempting to protect our children from unpleasant realities, but ignoring the news, particularly for school-age children, is probably not an option. They will almost inevitably see images in the media or hear about them from others. Letting children keep fear to themselves can be more damaging than frank discussion - for example, do not be afraid to use the words 'dead' and 'died'. Talking helps to identify specific fears and helps your children express their feelings.
Q. Should we let our children watch television?A. Research has shown that watching media coverage, especially repeated viewing, can create stress for children even when they are not directly exposed to disaster. Television viewing for young children should be limited. Parents need to watch with their children in order to be ready to share in and deal with their reactions and to correct misinformation. That assures them that you are there with them.
Q. How can we help our children deal with their worry and shock?A. Continue with established routines. Reassure them they are safe and you will not be leaving them. When appropriate, talk about things children might do, such as participating in charitable relief organisations.
Q. How can we help children feel safe?A. If children want more information and need reassurance, parents can talk about the role of the United Nations, about the scientific advances made to anticipate, avert and deal with natural disasters. The role of world cooperation through agencies such as the Red Cross, the United Nations Relief Fund can be emphasised. Older children may wish to discuss other wars or natural disasters, the way children's lives can be affected, and ways in which they can express their concern and support for victims of such events.
Teaching spiritual truths in response to children's questions
'Why did God let this happen?'
It is a question all adults ought to be asking too. The simple but difficult answer is that 'we do not know' even though some tragedies may be the outcome of human irresponsibility or sin - but that is a complex issue. What we do know is that we can trust God even when we do not understand why bad things happen. The story of Noah is an interesting one to reflect on. This was a natural disaster that God allowed but was a response of judgement. But it did not eradicate sin at all. The recently published novel, The Day the Sky Opened, by Andrew Guylatt (SU) is a fascinating retelling of the Bible story that raises the questions and insightfully helps give some understanding. Visit the SU website to find out more.
During any disaster Christians must rely on God's strength. God is with us in every situation. He has not left us! God does not want us to be afraid. Bible verses such as the following are useful to refer to: Psalm 46:1; Psalm 56:3; Psalm 73:23; John 14:27; Hebrews 13:6; 1 Peter 5:7: Philippians 4:6,7; 2 Corinthians 1:3,4; Romans 12:21; Proverbs 25:21-22
Basic questions about life and death, God, good and evil
You need to answer questions honestly, being aware of the age, ability and emotional maturity of your child. You know better than anyone!
Should a death occur in the family, children should be informed, simply and honestly, without big words and lengthy explanations. This is difficult when the parent is also grieving, but it is better to grieve as a family than to hide or repress feelings. The very young child approaches life with open-minded curiosity. The 'kind' lies of well-meaning adults serve only to shut down children's natural curiosity and delay the development of healthy coping skills. Children need extra support and the opportunity to express their feelings of loss and abandonment just as adults do.
The Child Bereavement Trust website is a useful place to visit or www.chelmsford.anglican.org and Bereavement resources. See also Children and Bereavement (Church House Publishing) by Wendy Duffy or Grandma's party (BRF) by Meg Harper.
How can we know God loves us?
We are promised that nothing, in life or death, will separate us from God's love. We live and move inside of God's love and nothing can stop that reality. Even the worst things that people can do to one another do not stop God's love for the world.
Will this natural disaster happen again?
Remember that your child's greatest need is for reassurance. When parents give their children time, love and hope through Jesus Christ, you help them find a way through their fears, anger and confusion. The pictures in newspapers and on the television will be graphic and may focus on children, lost and alone, without parents or shelter. The world can never again be seen as quite such a safe place. Children need to be reassured that as you will not leave them, they need not fear.
The more searching questions of teenagers may be around faith issues but will also be around what is physically happening when earthquakes and tsunamis happen. Be prepared to do your own research so that you can engage in conversation at the appropriate level, not only on the internet but also through scripture e.g. What effects did sin have on the earth (Gen. 3:16-19)? What did it mean for the earth when it was divided (Gen 10:25)? The story of Noah is a good one to think through with your teenagers.
What can we do as a family?
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