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Talking to children about Typhoon Haiyan

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  November 11, 2013 08:23 AM

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typhoon.jpgThe reports are coming in about the destruction in the Philippines from Typhoon Haiyan, and it is staggering. Thousands are dead. There are stories of children being ripped from their parents' arms by the storm, and corpses on the streets.

As much as we might like to keep horrible news like this from our children, unless your children are very small, it's hard. Even if you manage to keep your house media-free (including newspapers), other families don't--and children talk to each other. 

Here are some thoughts on what parents can do:
  • Be careful and thoughtful about the media images your children are exposed to. The images with the most devastation and horror are the ones that are likely to get picked up by TV and the Web, and those are exactly the ones that are toughest for children to see (toughest for anyone, really), especially video images. As mesmerizing as it might be, it's best to look at those images without your children--or keep their exposure really brief.
  • Be truthful in your explanations of what happened, but keep it brief and leave out gory details. There was a very bad storm that hit the Philippines. Many people were hurt or killed, and and it destroyed a lot of buildings. Lots of people are doing everything they can to help.
  • Focus on the heroes and helpers. There are always stories of ordinary people saving lives, and of all sorts of people doing extraordinary things to help. As those stories come in, talk about them more.
  • Reassure children that events like these are very rare. This was an extraordinary storm. The Philppines, too, as a country of islands with lots of small and lightly constructed houses, was particularly at risk for destruction. This is not the case for us here in Massachusetts. Yes, we are on the coast and yes, bad storms happen. But what happened there is really unlikely to happen here.
  • Talk about all the ways that people work to keep them safe from natural disasters--and talk about ways that they can keep themselves safe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has information about preparing for a hurricane--you can use that as something to talk about.
  • As a family, choose a way to help. Three organizations that are on the ground helping already are The Philippine Red CrossThe World Food Programme (you can also text the word AID to 27722 to instantly donate $10--I did it, it works) and UNICEF
Hug your children. Hug your partner. Call your mother. I feel like I say this all the time in lots of different blogs, but we are nowhere near grateful enough for what we have.



This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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