Carina has been typing on the internets before there was a www in front of everything. This is why she’s cranky and wants to know when you’ll get off her lawn. She resides in a hopelessly outdated home in the Mountain West with a mathematician and three children hell-bent on destruction. Her laundry is not done, but her Twitter is totally up to date. Carina does not have a Tumblr, because get serious.

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Talking to Kids About the Japanese Earthquake

AFP/Toshifumi Kitamura


Early Friday morning I started noticing tweets mentioning a problem in Japan. I turned on the news to see aerial pictures of the destruction in Northern Japan. The fast moving waters swallowing up farm fields and pushing debris, including whole houses, across the countryside; it was unreal.

Once you become a mom, tragedies make your heart race and ache at the same time. Immediately you think about what you would do with your own little ones if the tsunami warnings blared. You worry about the mothers of Japan and hope their children are safe. Grab the baby, hold the toddler, time enough to pack a few sweaters and a sippy? Vow that you’ll have a 72-hour-kit by next week? Furiously run through evacuation scenarios in your mind to plan for every possibility? It’s all rushing in a torrent.

I prepped for Friday night dinner while watching the news. My seven-year-old son sat transfixed by the images he was seeing. I understand when mothers want to shield their children from the world, but I wanted him to see. I wanted him to ask questions, to know about a place called Japan. I want him to understand the power of nature and how far from invincible we are.

I explained to my son that when I was a teen, I went on a rafting trip. One section of the river appeared to be a shallow place to cross on foot. Even though the water couldn’t have been more than knee-height, it was almost impossible to keep on your feet. Playing in that river helped me understand that water is more powerful than we are, that no matter how strong I think I am, I am nothing in the face of water determined to move. The images of houses, cars, boats, permanent and powerful objects in his world, all carried away by the tsunami, fascinated him.

He asked a lot of questions, and I tried to answer them simply and truthfully. An earthquake is like throwing a rock in a pond and the tsunami is like the ripples afterward. The trains can’t run because there isn’t any power. They are worried that the inside of the nuclear power plant will get too hot and dangerous poison will get out.

“But mom, what about the salami…”

“Not salami, honey, tsu-NA-mi.”

“Ooooh,” he said with a small giggle, “With an “N” instead of an “L”,” he said, nodding his head, trying to understand it all.


Find out what the Red Cross is doing to help in Japan and make a donation here.

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Comments (5)

  1. Anastasia B 03/14/2011 at 4:31 pm

    I would also want my kids to be exposed to such footage and to understand what is going on. My two year old watched a bit of a video online and even she understands as much as her baby brain can. I am so sad for all the orphaned children and the mothers who lost children in this event. I can’t even begin to imagine how it feels…

  2. Rachael Herrscher 03/14/2011 at 9:19 am

    This stuff is paralyzing and scary to me – and so confusing for kids! When the Haiti earthquake happened my kids would ask me if our walls were going to fall down in our house during the night. (and they also referred to Haiti as Hades)

    And their little hearts are so big! Their school did a project for Haiti and sent hygiene kits and supplies and all of the kids wrote notes. Even the 1st graders were writing such heartfelt words for such little people.

    • Carina Wytiaz 03/14/2011 at 9:31 am

      Do you use events like these to talk about what your family’s emergency plans are? Like where you’d meet, how you’d find each other, and how to get out?

      Obviously, there are some kids that worry too much when they see disasters, and you know your children best, but I want mine (age appropriate) to understand that the world is bigger than they realize and that this is a chance for us to help others.

      • Rachael Herrscher 03/14/2011 at 9:37 am

        Totally — we had a family night after that to talk about Haiti and we also talked about what we would do in an emergency at our house. And I realized how many areas we need to improve in. i.e. some windows that would be tough to work or get out of, emergency packs for the kids, etc. etc. I think we are due for another family night on this!

      • Erica Fehrman 03/15/2011 at 7:40 pm

        Every time there’s a disaster somewhere I think about our lack of emergency plans, and then I don’t actually put anything together. I think a 72-hour kit is now a must, plus a plan for getting our family together if cell phones are out or roads are closed.