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Helping Children Talk About Traumatic Events


Millions of children have watched horrific events that have now claimed nearly 20,000 lives in Japan. A popular marriage education exercise helps parents make it safe for young people to confide feelings that could otherwise remain bottled up.

Millions of children have been exposed to images of destruction from the recent Japanese earthquakes and tsunami. A popular exercise from marriage education helps parents make it safe for young people to talk about feelings.

by Seth Eisenberg

What do you say to kids who have been exposed to traumatic events? How do you help them feel safe while also understanding more about the world around them and the connection we share with neighbors near and far?

From 9/11 to continued reports of the devastation in Japan, 21st century technology means young people have front row seats to horrific events that can be difficult for a person of any age to process and understand.

My oldest son, Alex, 21, taught me a lot about the impact conversations with young people can have on their lives and others.

As a pre-teen, when Alex heard about a woman working in our community whose mobile home had been badly damaged in a hurricane as her husband was struggling to overcome a heart attack, he immediately insisted on giving her hundreds of dollars he’d carefully saved up from his allowance for well over a year.

At 13, when he began to understand the challenges facing homeless kids on the streets of Fort Lauderdale, he quickly volunteered to help.

I have little doubt the conversations we had about those events and many more, coupled with seeing his decisions and actions make a difference for others, encouraged him to begin coaching youth athletics and pursue medical school.

Helping young people understand the tragic events around us – especially those with images broadcast repeatedly on television and online – begins with listening.

For millions of children around the world who have watched entire families and neighborhoods swept away after the recent earthquakes and tsunami that claimed nearly 20,000 lives in Japan, it’s important for them to be able to talk about their feelings.

An exercise couples learn in marriage education classes called Emptying the Emotional Jug can be invaluable for helping children feel safe to talk about emotions that could otherwise become bottled up.

A Gift that Lasts a Lifetime,” includes step-by-step instructions to help your sons and daughters express themselves as the first step to a conversation about the difference each of our lives can make.

Seth Eisenberg is CEO of the nonprofit PAIRS Foundation in Weston, Florida, an industry leader in relationship skills training.

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