Our world has experienced one of the worst natural disasters ever, and most of its victims are young people. More than 100,000 people are expected to die from the tidal waves and their after-effects.
The key to getting through any challenge is faith--believing what our eyes cannot see. Our eyes have been filled with images of the horror that the tsunami has left throughout South Asia--darkness in our world of light. This is a time we must draw on our connection with spirit as never before and find ways to help our children find their center when they are rocked with fear and questions.
The following are ideas to support your child's spirit during this time of tragedy in our world:
Use television with caution. Be aware of the images you are beaming into your young child's consciousness. If you want news of the tragedy, turn on the radio; it's less intrusive. If your child has already seen the chilling images of destruction, help him come up with another image of beauty to replace them. When he is trying to fall asleep, his "movie projector" mind can choose to substitute the horrifying scene with the calm image he has created.
Light candles. Use candles as a concrete way to symbolize your efforts to send light to those who need it now. Perhaps you want to give each candle a specific intention. Light a candle and pray for the victims and families touched by this trauma. Light another candle for rescue workers, doctors, and all those who are working to care for survivors and repair the damage. Your child might like to designate the third candle. She may wish to pray for the many children left as orphans--that spirit might fill them and help them find comfort and security.
Rely on comforting rituals. Many families have told me they have found comfort from praying the memorized prayers of their youth. Familiar repetitive prayer may be a balm for you and your children. Don't forget mealtime prayers (kids may want to write their own prayers for tsunami victims) and the rituals of your everyday lives. Kids cling to the comforting rhythm of the ordinary during times of stress.
Connect with others locally. If your community or church is holding special services for this tragedy, make the effort to go with your kids. Join with neighbors for dinner or take a walk and speak to those you see. Kids long for connectivity at all times, but especially when tragedy has struck.
Encourage empathy. Ken Hudnut of the U.S. Geological Survey was quoted as saying, "Because of the magnitude of the temblor, the whole Earth will be ringing like a bell for a long time." When children are aware that the very land they walk on has been affected by the tidal wave that occurred thousands of miles away, they can better empathize with victims.
Indeed, we are all on this earth together. What happens in our little corner of the earth matters--and ripples out. Just knowing this can help kids use this tragedy as positive inspiration to become more thoughtful about their actions.
Ask open-ended questions and make time to listen to your children without distraction. Expect questions such as "How could God let this happen?" Then honestly respond with your own grief, your own horror over the loss of so many lives.
Young children may have fears during the night. Set up a sleeping bag on the floor of your bedroom, and let your child know she can snuggle in if she feels afraid.
Let go of expectations. All children react differently to stress, and their reactions change with each stressful situation. Be open to whatever behavior arises and remain sensitive to what your child might need at any given time. One mother told me her 11-year-old son showed no emotion over the events of the last few days, and she worried he wasn't aware that this was truly different from a video game. It wasn't until she overheard her son talking on the phone to a friend that she understood he was unloading with his pals not his mom.
Information can comfort. Often kids feel empowered knowing what to do in case an emergency strikes their world. Older children might find comfort in hearing about the chances of an earthquake in their communities and what to do if one hits (with the assurance that this level of quake is extremely rare). The Red Cross has a concise listing of What to do After an Earthquake.