Disasters--natural and otherwise--are a fact of life. News such as major earthquakes, terrorist attacks, or the recent tragedies in Portland and Connecticut can elicit reactions covering a spectrum from disbelief, to compassion, to fear. That being said, we as adults are able to frame these frightening incidents in the context of our life experience. It is distressing when details of catastrophic occurrences filter down into conversation among children of preschool age.
It does such serious events no dishonor to say that this kind of information has no place in the world of the young child. As parents and teachers, we must strive each day to shelter children from frightening images and information they can neither comprehend, nor respond to in any constructive way. Sometimes, newspapers must be tucked away just for grown-ups' eyes; radio and television reports must be saved for adults-only time. It behooves us to be careful what we discuss within earshot, whether petty complaints or concerns for the future of humanity!
Of course, it does happen sometimes that children are exposed to things we would rather they had not seen or heard. Then, fears and curiosity must be addressed. The key is to offer, in one's calmest matter-of-fact manner, the simplest possible explanation. For example, in the case of flashing lights and emergency vehicles on the freeway, one might say, "Some people need help, and the police are taking care of them." Limited information, inexplicit, yet truthful. What a child needs is reassurance, and fewer details than one might imagine. The late Fred Rogers put it this way: "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping. To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers--so many caring people in this world."
One can hardly overstress the importance of nurturing in children their innate belief that the world is generally a good and safe place to be--and it is, despite what the media may bring into our homes each day. When we do so, we are providing a solid and secure foundation from which our children will someday move forward and become good citizens with a positive vision for their future. They'll be the helpers.