by Laura Jana, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Our nation is reeling from the attacks on the World
Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. When
horrendous events like these occur, it not only leaves each and every
adult shaken and mired in disbelief, it becomes impossible to shelter
our children from the reality of what is happening. While we struggle to
comprehend these awful events, it is important that we take into account
our children's perspective and help them cope as well. No matter how
upset we are by the grim reality that our country is not as safe as we
would like it to be, we have to offer our children some semblance of
security in their world.
Steps parents can take:
There are several steps parents can take to comfort their children and
help them make some sense of the tragedy:
Personal safety and the safety of the people you love. Offer immediate
reassurance in any way possible to make sure that your child knows that
those people closest to him are OK. First, even though it may seem
obvious, spell out to your child that the members of his immediate
family--Mom, Dad, brothers and sisters--are all safe. This is essential
even if you live nowhere near the site of one of the attacks. Next,
reassure your child about other relatives--Grandma and Granddad, for
example. Repeating the list of dear ones who are all right will be
comforting for you and your children. If possible, you may want to let
your children talk to them on the phone or via email.
Structure. Try to maintain the daily schedule as best as
you can. If you normally go to the park or drop your child off at
preschool, do those things. A regular routine gives children a sense of
structure and security.
Details and distance. Although you may feel a need to
keep the television on to catch each unfolding event, for the sake of
your young children, it's best to turn it off while they're in the room
(or you might consider listening to the radio using earphones). Children
(and all people) are more able to handle shocking news when it is not
immediate in time, and when it is presented in print, rather than
television. If your children do watch the news, make sure that you sit
with them to help explain what is happening and answer their questions.
People in charge. Let your child know that people in
authority--the President, the mayor, teachers--are all making sure that
everyone is going to be safe. Remind your child that you are also making
sure that he is safe. That, after all, is your main job as a parent.
Maintaining perspective. If your child overhears that a
plane has crashed or a building has collapsed, you can reassure him that
almost all planes and buildings are still completely safe. These bad
events only happened in a very few, specific places.
Awareness of emotions. Even if children are too young to
fully understand what is happening as tragedy unfolds, from a very early
age, they are acutely aware of the emotional state of their parents.
It's fine to let your children know that you are upset and sad, but make
it clear that you're not upset with them, and try to be as calm and
reassuring as possible.
Patience. As you try to process this tragedy, you must
expect that your children, no matter how young, may show signs of
distress in response--whether it is in the form of fussiness, fear,
nightmares, or tantrums. Expect these normal reactions, and be ready to
deal with them with understanding and patience.
Mutual support. It's very important to pay attention to
your own levels of stress and shock. If you feel, as many of us do, a
sense of unreality or being dazed, or if you feel a physical response to
the news--tenseness in the chest, for example--these are normal and
expectable responses to the tragedy. As soon as you can, find a friend,
relative, or colleague, and talk about your feelings--and listen in turn
to theirs. Getting this support for yourself is crucial, so that you
will be able to be calm and confident with your children.
Go on to Reporting
Tips to the FBI
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