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Children and Tragedy

The recent tsunami in the Indian Ocean may have been miles away from our homes, but not our hearts. While that means people from Georgia to Germany can reach out to help, it also means many families are struggling with how to explain the tragedy to children or other loved ones who felt deeply affected by the disaster. Here's how you can help your family cope.

Many questions arise in wake of tragedy

How can we help?

How can we talk to our children about what happened?

How can we cope with the tragedy?

These are just a few of the questions families are struggling with in the wake of the tsunami disaster and its aftermath. With the media now reaching across the globe, images of the terror flash across our TV screens, computers and newspapers constantly.

It's important to remember that people will cope with the tragedy in different ways, says Susan Scherffius Jakes, Ph.D., family and consumer sciences specialist with North Carolina State University.

"The best thing we can do is to be open to these various responses and help others cope and respond effectively, says Jakes. "Also keep in mind that many of us may have several potentially contradictory responses at once."

Some common responses might be:

Helplessness - There is nothing we can do - it is halfway around the world.

Focus- This is the most important thing that is happening right now, I will find a way to help.

Fear - Is this going to happen to us, is anyone safe?

Grief - This is so sad, I can't get the images out of my mind, I am unable to concentrate.

Worry over children - There is too much in the media, I don't think children can cope with these images.

Being overwhelmed – It's just too much to take in, I need to get away from this.

Focus on the children

Children are particularly vulnerable to stress from viewing natural disasters. Remember that young children need to be protected from images they can't understand, so restrict your TV viewing of the disaster to times when the children are asleep or out of the house. Be aware of how much you're talking about the disaster as well, says Jakes.

For children who are old enough to understand and ask questions, assure them they are safe and well cared for, and help them think of ways to alleviate their anxiety.

Some older children may want to know more about tsunamis. Understanding the phenomenon may help alleviate their anxiety. For a clear explanation on tsunamis, visit this How Stuff Works link.

One of the best ways to reduce stress – for young and old alike -- is to get involved in relief efforts. Have your children give some of their own money to relief agencies by clearing out their piggy banks or earning it by doing extra chores around the house. Children can feel very powerless in such situations, but having them get involved can really aid in their coping. The Do Something Web site is "for kids, by kids" and offers kid-friendly links for donating money.

"Take time to check in with your children. Sometimes they're too frightened to even discuss what they're feeling. The best thing you can do is to empower them by helping them get involved," says Jakes.