The pictures broadcast in the early
hours of Tuesday were startling. That they were also "live" made them
beyond belief. That one attack came right after another took the experience into
It is not an exaggeration to say
that an entire nation has been riveted to its TV sets since roughly 9am EST,
this morning. Unfortunately, many of those viewers have been our children, who
are learning a horrifying lesson on terrorism, in vivid technicolor. What is
difficult for the adult mind to fathom, is surely impossible for a child. So, as
their questions begin, our biggest question as parents is, how do we discuss
this with them?
Child Psychologist Amy Feld
stresses, "An open dialogue with your children is essential. For a child,
the questions are often scarier than the answers they receive. Even if the best
you can offer is "I don't know", they need to feel secure in asking
the question." And Clinical & Medical Psychologist Michael D. Connor
concurs, "In one violent or traumatic moment the world can become
unpredictable, dangerous and frightening. Whether it is a small town occurrence
or a national one as seen today, it is important to reassure your children that
they are safe."
He suggests, "Take time to
talk about the events, especially as their thoughts and feelings arise. They may
have questions right away, or they may surface many days later. Listen
carefully. Reassure them they are O.K. and just be with them. Don't avoid
regular activities. Especially for younger children, routine is essential to
their sense of security."
Routine for most children on a
weekday revolves around attending school. While many parents decided to keep
their children home today, experienced school principal, Steven Hill of Oregon
points out that may not be in the best interest of the child. "A parent's
natural reaction to an incident of this magnitude is to pull their children
closer, yet this may serve to trouble the child even more. Allowing the child to
go about their routine and be with their friends is important. All schools have
a crisis plan that goes into effect during these times to help students deal
with the emotions and discuss the questions that may arise."
He also brings up a question posed
to him by a concerned parent, "I was asked if we were going to run an
emergency drill today. Honestly, that is the last thing we would do to the
children. It would only serve to traumatize them unnecessarily."
What may surprise many parents is
the level of insight a child will have into the terrorism. My own child, age
nine, after watching the footage of the second plane impacting with the World
Trade Center, asked, "Didn't the bad person know they were going to die
too?" This led to a whole conversation about belief systems, religion, and
the roots of terrorism itself. What is particularly troubling for her is that
she understands that when a large plane collides with a building, at that moment
many people lost their lives.
It is this understanding that may
lead to a child exhibiting stress symptoms normally reserved for adults. Dr.
Connor advises , "Many children can function very well in a crisis, but may
eventually experience some symptoms such as, anxiety, fear, panic or anger,
difficulty sleeping, waking throughout the night, nightmares or daydreaming.
Also not uncommon are, change in appetite, reliving images of traumatic events
or dwelling on the event. A child may become easily angered or upset or may
withdraw or become reluctant to be open or talk. Finally, headaches, stomach
aches, indigestion are common by products of this type of stress."
So how to aid your child when you
are also experiencing the same sense of disruption and disbelief? Adults know
all too well that the events that began this morning are only the beginning.
Repercussions will follow, as will up to the minute news accounts of the
devastation and loss of life involved. Dr. Simon Stratton, Child Psychologist
suggests turning off the TV, "Tune in for updates and to stay informed, but
do not let it dominate the atmosphere of your home. Allow your children to watch
their favorite programs or movies."
Personally, I am truly shaken by
what has transpired. My head cannot comprehend the cruelty and intent of those
who wrought this carnage. My heart cannot comprehend the fear and sorrow as so
many begin to learn of and deal with the loss of their loved ones. Yet as a
mother of three, I can concur with the experts that talking with your children
is essential, and add one additional tip of my own. . .
When the words won't come or the
answers are out of reach, pull your child close. Sometimes a simple hug can
provide a healing that a million answers never will.
About the author : Linda
Sharp is an internationally published humorist who writes regularly on the
joyous and frustrating world of parenting. Her work appears across the Internet
and wraps around the globe in parenting publications from Canada to Malaysia.
Linda is also co-creator of the award winning website, SanityCentral.com
— A Time Out From Parenting! Located at http://www.sanitycentral.com,
it is totally irreverent, hysterical and packed with enough laughs to brighten
even the weariest of parents! As a mother of three children (four if you count
her husband), she firmly believes that laughter IS the best medicine. She may be
reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Linda
and her family currently shiver in the High Desert Country of central Oregon.