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Terrorism - Helping Kids Cope

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Published On: <DATE>          Updated On: September 13, 2001
© Terence T. Gorski, 2001

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Terrorism - Helping Your Kids Cope
By Terence T. Gorski
September 13, 2001

Here are some guidelines for helping your kids deal with the recent terrorism in New York and Washington:

1.    Work through your own emotional reactions with other adults, not with your children.  You need to be there for your kids.  It's not there job to be there for you.  Take care of yourself by by exercising, eating well, getting proper sleep, and talking to adult family members and friends.

2.    Remain calm and in control.  Your emotional state is the most important factor that influences the emotional state of your children during crisis.

3.    Maintain normal family activities and schedules.  Kids need structure and that need is greater during times of crisis.  The regular structure gives a feeling of consistency and safety.

4.    Eliminate television coverage for kids under eight  years old.  Limit and supervise television coverage for kids over eight years old.  Trying to keep information from older children may cause even more anxiety.  Be sure that you're there while they are watching to answer any questions they might have and talk about any reactions they might have.  

        Note:  News reports are for adult viewing only.  Vivid images and vivid verbal reports of planes crashing into buildings, destroyed physical structures, dead bodies, and wounded people can be traumatizing.  Seeing the same images of disaster rebroadcast over and over will cause kids to think it's happening again and again.

5.    Be physically present with your kids.  Quality moments emerge in the midst of quantity time.  Kids will ask important questions or share important feelings at the most unpredictable times.  A caring receptive adult needs to be there when they do.

6.    When you kids do ask questions ...

A.   Don't pretend that it's not happening.  Your kids will know you're not telling the truth and will feel unsafe and untrusting as a result.

B.   Give honest, short, and simple answers.  Don't go into too much detail.  If the child wants more information he or she will ask.

7.    Ask you children what they think is going on and how they feel about it.  Listen to what your child says, and validate what happened and their feelings about what happened.  Assure them that they are safe and will be safe.  Here's an example:  

Parent:  What do you think happened?

Child:     A plane crashed into a building?

Parent:   That's right, a plane crashed into the building.

Child:      Did lots of people die?

Parent:   Yes, they did!  I feel  very sad about that.  How do you feel?

Child:      I feel sad too.

Parent:    <Parent hugs child>  It is sad, but you're safe here with me. 
  We'll  get through this sadness together

8.    Participate with your children in spiritual activities consistent with your faith traditions.  This could include attending religious services, praying together, sharing at-home spiritual  rituals such as lighting candles, or writing a letter to God to express their feelings.  

9.    Don't be surprised if your children become anxious, fearful, or sad.  It's a normal reaction to tragedy.  Provide extra understanding, comfort and reassurance.  Don't criticize them.  Avoid saying things like:  "It's not that bad!"

10.  Most importantly, be there with kids.  Stay close to them and remain calm and reassuring.  There's no substitute for the presence of a loving parent in times of tragedy and grief.  Remember, the essential job of a parent in times of national crisis is to comfort and reassure their children.


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