Learning from disasterWritten by Shannon Szyperski | | firstname.lastname@example.org
This season’s seemingly constant flurry of winter weather activity and the subsequent onslaught of school delays and closings has turned my seven-year-old son into a bit of a news junkie. Out of new habit, he now tends to do a quick check of the news before he clicks his way to “Phineaus and Ferb” or the like. He didn’t have to turn it on the morning of March 11th, however, as I was already uncomfortably absorbing the horrific disaster unfolding in Japan. After an initial wave of surprise and sympathy, Jack began attempting to wrap his head around the situation.
Natural disasters of a certain magnitude are usually followed by an abundance of public advice about how to break the bad news to your child. While I understand and appreciate the sentiment, I do find the American way of almost immediately re-focusing on ourselves and how we may be personally affected by a disaster thousands of miles away to be slightly off-putting. I encountered the much more self-absorbing, grown-up version of the scenario two days later when I heard on the news that we needn’t worry about an impending shortage of electronics due to the situation in Japan. Such a concern wasn’t exactly at the top of my “Possible Negative Outcomes in the Tsunamic Aftermath” list.
Instead, there are immediate lessons to be learned from trying times whether they happen nine miles away or 9,000 miles away. Major events in other parts of our country and throughout the world are an opportune time to introduce and explain certain concepts to children. Geography is the obvious first lesson. Where is Japan? What is it like? How many people live there? At our house we have U.S. and world maps hanging at a child’s eye level. It only took a couple of times of me using the maps to point out places we heard about on TV before my children began implementing the practice on their own.
It wasn’t long after my son and I began discussing the Japanese earthquake and subsequent tsunami that we began searching for answers to all of our questions. It often doesn’t occur to me until I attempt to explain something to someone else, especially a child, that I may not still fully comprehend it myself. As my brain stumbled over the best way to describe thirty years’ worth of assorted earthquake and other geographical information, I turned to National Geographic to help me along.
“Tsunamis 101” reminded me not only of exactly how the earth’s plates operate and possess the power to create a tsunami, it also reminded me of the more than 200,000 people who lost their lives in December 2004 to the same fate. It is still difficult to imagine that a single event could have so effortlessly and so unapologetically taken so many. As I tried to impress on my son the astounding power of nature, I quickly realized how astounded I continue to be by it myself.
I began to notice the majestic Japanese mountains still touting their beauty up against otherwise dreadful scenes, and I thought of the unthinkable violent acts that had to have once taken place in order to eventually form such splendor. It is no doubt hard to consider any sort of positive when staring into the face of televised death and destruction, yet it is almost essential to seek out something good when relaying such tragedy to children. I don’t want to frighten my children, especially about things they have no control over, yet I also don’t want to completely shield them from reality either. If the children of Japan can work through witnessing natural disaster firsthand, my children can bear to hear about it in a toned down and reasonable way.
From a distance, children can gain an appreciation for certain things from otherwise scary and heart-wrenching events. Beyond science and geography lessons, they can learn about the engineers who saved thousands of lives just by design and the heroic rescuers willing to run to danger instead of away from it. They can begin to better appreciate the value in things we so often take for granted, like electricity and food and water and shelter. In fact, we can all take away such lessons as we attempt to wrap our own heads around situations of such magnitude.
Shannon and her husband Michael are raising three children in Sylvania. E-mail her at email@example.com.