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LifestyleColumnistsBeth Whitehouse

How to talk to kids about the tsunami

Q. How can I explain to my children about the earthquake, tsunami and radiation risk in Japan?


A. "From kindergarten to grade 3 ... basically, the rule of thumb is answer only what they ask, and do it as simply as possible," advises Suzanne Freeman, editor-director of the Scholastic News Kids Press Corps. Monitor the TV viewing, she says, because stations repeat the same images over and over, and children don't realize that.

At this age, especially because we live in a coastal area, children will fear such a thing happening here. Reassure them that experts are doing everything they can to ensure that we would know in advance of a tsunami and that nuclear power plants here are built to be safe, says Judith Myers-Walls, professor emerita in human development and family studies at Purdue University in Indiana.

Focus on the things being done to help. Organizations such as the American Red Cross offer ways families can pitch in. Lady Gaga is selling a special bracelet for $5 with the phrase "We pray for Japan" written in English and Japanese; all proceeds go to the relief effort.

Children in fourth grade and older will want more complex information. Consider discussing print or online articles because parents can screen the images first, Myers-Walls says. Be aware they might misunderstand words they hear such as "tsunami" and "meltdown," she says.

The Scholastic Kids Press Corps is a group of 55 children ages 10 to 14 who report news for their peers; check the prepared package of stories online at scholastic.com/kidspress.

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