Talking to Kids About the Japanese Earthquake

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.
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AFP/Toshifumi Kitamura

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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