Helping Kids Make Sense of Haiti
- Tuesday, January 19, 2010
When disaster strikes, a parent's first thought may be to protect their children from the dreadful news, the staggering numbers, the overwhelming questions. To think of the loss in Haiti hurts our grownup hearts.
Would you understand if I said I think we should let it hurt our children's hearts, too?
I've always had this thing about not getting too comfortable -- always felt compelled to teach my kids not to take our security and material blessings for granted. For years I've cut out National Geographic pictures of children all over the world -- eager African children crowded in ramshackle classrooms, kids coming home from market with bunches of fish on their heads, squatting on a dirt floor to shape tortillas with mama, herding sheep with papa. Like the ticker running at the bottom of the news channel screen, these pictures hang at kids' eye-level throughout our house as subliminal reminders that our American lifestyle isn't really the norm.
As a Montessori teacher, I was taught to do this -- to introduce at an early age the diversity of the world through striking visual images. I was also trained to look at things through children's eyes. So when a cataclysmic event occurs, my first thought is with them.
My advice for parents:
- Do all you can to make this a meaningful event for your children and to manage the meaning in a way that will build their characters, their compassion, and their willingness to sacrifice for those in need.
- Watch the post-earthquake coverage with them, putting the images into words. Don't let your little ones be blindsided by glimpses of broken bodies and weeping parents on TV or magazine covers at the checkout stand. Without your intervention, these images can produce deep fears which children have no language to share.
- Show them on a globe where we live and where the earthquake struck. Show them images of Haiti before -- try this panoramic tour. Talk about how the people there -- by all accounts -- may live in impoverished circumstances but are generous and joyful.
- Teach them to give, but teach them in a way that involves real sacrifice on their part. Put a jar in the middle of the table as a constant visual reminder, and fill it with change that would have gone to sweets or movie rentals or something currently taken for granted. Young children can only comprehend the abstract when we make it concrete. The sight of the jar, the sound of the change hitting the glass -- these seem insignificant to us but will shape memories for children of their first sacrificial giving.
- Above all, read to them or tell them the stories of survivors. These will instill a message of hope, reinforcing in your children the habit of turning in that direction when times are tough. Stories are coming out of toddlers being pulled from the rubble, like two-year-old Redjeson Hausteen Claude who was reunited with his mother in a dramatic series of pictures or 3-year-old Isaiah who - along with six other orphans - finally flew home to their adopted families in Evansville, Indiana on January 19.
- Look especially for stories of courage and selflessness. Following the 2005 Sri Lanka tsunami, I was particularly struck by the contrast between tourists who skedaddled home to safety -- or worse, those who stayed to party on -- and those who dropped everything, rolled up their sleeves and pant legs, and went to work wherever they could. This led to an interesting family discussion: What would you do? How I hope my own children would grow up to be the ones to help!
Pray together as a family and look for lessons God may have for us. Perhaps the good that may finally come of this terrible, terrible event is that none of us will ever again be able to stick our heads in the sand, ignoring the world beyond our small communities.
Our kids may grow up living locally, but thinking globally -- and consistently making choices that show they care.
January 19. 2010
Barbara Curtis is a certified AMI Montessori teacher, mother of 12, author and blogger at www.MommyLife.net.
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