Toddlers and Tornadoes
How do you tell a preschooler about natural disasters and do you even want to?
We drove through Tuscaloosa, Ala., last Saturday on our way back from a family function. Lilliana, who is rarely quiet for any length of time, was speechless for a few minutes. Then she just kept saying, “Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh, look!” I was moved to tears.
I had worked as a property inspector for FEMA several years ago in Florida and Pensacola helping folks get their reimbursements from when Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne wreaked havoc down there. Seeing it on television is one thing, but it was my first exposure to up-close devastation on that level. And I guess it has been long enough that I was just shocked again. I was again moved to tears at the sight of the absolute destruction left behind, and I wondered how to explain it to Lilliana.
We talked about the “twister” that came through, took peoples houses,picked up the cars, and how dangerous it was. She kind of knows what a tornado is. However, how do you convey to a 4-year-old the loss that so many people are going through, and do I even want to? I watched a man on the news who lost his father, his wife, his children, and his home; and I cannot imagine having to face tomorrow with that kind of loss. Do I want to explain this kind of loss to Lilliana? Probably not.
I do, however, think we have to address it in some way because from what I can glean through resources on the Internet, not understanding the disasters can undermine “a preschooler’s deep need to see the world as a safe and predictable place,” according to an article written by Mary VanClay at BabyCenter. I searched the Internet and found many different opinions about whether to address and how.
The bottom line for me, I guess, is that Lilliana understand that it isn’t happening everywhere all the time, that she feel safe, that she understand a little bit of the sadness on her level (like children lost all their toys and clothes), and that she have some sense of control and the ability to help, like putting together a package of things we could send or donating some of her toys for the children.
I don’t know if this is the right way to handle it or not, but as parents we do our best, and we pray that we are guided by a Higher Power to produce a loving, kind, and thoughtful child. I think we’ve done pretty well so far.