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Posted at 9:43 AM ET, 01/14/2010

Talk to kids about Haiti tragedy

By Valerie Strauss

Every time there is a massive loss of life somewhere in the world, and pictures are being beamed on television and over the Internet, the question arises about how and when to talk to kids about the tragedy. Now and in the days to come the news will be about the devastation and death in Haiti.

Trying to keep bad news away from children (except especially young ones) is an exercise in futility in today’s wired world. One study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that today spend almost 6 1/2 hours a day on media. Half of kids ages 8 to 18 live in homes where the television is on most of the time.

So experts on child development say the best thing for parents and teachers to do is to be as honest as possible in ways that kids can understand.

PBS has a detailed, age-specific guide on how adults can help kids absorb and understand bad news. You can find it here.

Parents can control what preschoolers see, and it is advised that these children not see repeated viewings of a tragedy. Even if you tell them that something bad happened far away, they don’t understand distance.

But once children enter school, the recommendations change. Children ages 6-8 want to know what is going on in the world, and kids often learn in school--from their friends as well as teachers--things parents may not want them to know.

Adults should talk to this group of children about the news without too much detail or taking the child into a zone of obvious discomfort. Start by finding out how much they know and get a sense of how much they would like to know.

With older children, it is safer to go into more detail, though the amount depends on age and emotional maturity. In many cases parents can watch the news with their children and explain what is going on.

There’s a lot more helpful advice here. Take a look.

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By Valerie Strauss  | January 14, 2010; 9:43 AM ET
Categories:  Parents, Teachers  | Tags:  talking to kids about tragedy  
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Next: Schools help Haitian relief effort


How about not troubling the "kids" that in reality can not comprehend what has happen anyway.Every time something bad happens in the world or in the USA we do not need "experts" telling kids all about it.Kids are kids, let them remain that way,they will grow up to soon already.

Posted by: fcs25 | January 14, 2010 12:03 PM | Report abuse


Valarie, believe it or not, I asked this same question at dinner last night toward my children. I thought the discussion would provided interesting discussions to include ways students could think of or consider to help the citizens of Haiti.

The answer I received was "No" which I found disappointing, but then again standardized testing is on the horizon and classrooms are focusing on them.

Nevertheless, we discussed this with our children to include ways they think they could help. They've identified what they would like to do and they're looking forward to making individual contributions of their own.

Posted by: TwoSons | January 14, 2010 12:14 PM | Report abuse

At, the source for kid-friendly answers on how the world works, we parse tough news stories into easy to understand language for kids and parents alike. Here's our advice for talking to kids about the tragedy in Haiti:

Posted by: arodenha | January 14, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

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