Ways to Help Your Child Process Acts of Violence &Terrorism
For more information about helping children process tragic events, see http://www.nccev.org/
, the National Center for Children Exposed to Violence.
1. Children need to have adults who are available to listen to what's on their minds.
Listening to the child, being available to hear all they have to say, is foremost. Then you'll be able to hear what issues are uppermost in the child's mind, and it will vary by age.
2. Limit the child's exposure to coverage of the events on television.
For younger children under the age of 8 and perhaps a little bit older, the exposure is more overwhelming than informative. No child should be subjected to unremitting exposure on television. When they are watching the news, it's important that an adult be with them
to process what's going on.
3. Children need to know the truth and part of that truth is that the event was unanticipated and a tragedy occurred. Children need their parents' support in recognizing that bad things can happen, and that we can feel afraid and saddened. We all need help in being able to bear and tolerate the enormous feelings that are aroused when tragic events occur. Most important is that you let your child see that you will listen to, and can withstand, the expression of their strongest feelings.
4. Point out the good things that are going on. When a tragedy occurs, we will also see great acts of courage and compassion. Point out to your children and demonstrate to them that in the terrible moment of crisis, our country pulls together and there are enormous acts of heroism and caring where communities and individuals support one another. These are values children need to know and be aware of -- the demonstration of goodness and generosity in others, especially in times of crisis.
5. Let your child do something to help. In our flurry to help and do something, we sometimes forget that children are people too, and to include them. Doing something, taking action, dispels anxiety. We all feel less helpless when we can DO something. Make a donation to the Red Cross, and let your child take part in this, whether it's collecting clothes and blankets you no longer need, or going to the store to buy diapers and formula to donate, or adding part of their allowance to your family's donation of cash to a charity that's helping.
6. Look for signs of distress the child may be demonstrating in behaviors rather than words.
When behaviors are disrupted or when children are demonstrating their anxiety, it's often a signal to try and expand the discussion by asking the child to describe more of their ideas about what they've seen and heard.
7. Sometimes you'll get a reaction of de-sensitization.
For instance a 12 year old, observing scenes of the collapse of the Trade Center Towers might say that it was cool. Keep in mind that the event is unreal for all of us and that we can't digest what we're seeing so we automatically separate out, and divide off the feelings that are most overwhelming. To see the building's collapse as if it were a scene in a movie is more tolerable than immediately grasping that the victims are real people -- mothers, fathers, sisters,
brothers and friends. Respect the propensity to distance; it's a normal reaction.
8. For adolescents, the idea of sharing painful and vulnerable feelings goes counter to their own trends in development.
Rather than focusing teens into discussions about their feelings, parents and teachers can encourage them in the expression of their ideas by listening in whatever form their concerns take and accepting them as they are.
9. With older children, you can discuss the motives of the perpetrators.
If you talk to your older child about the motives of terrorism, for instance, you can instill in them the values America stands for -- to stand firm in defense of freedom and liberty, and what it means to stand together as a nation, resolute in our determination to not collapse with the collapse of buildings and the loss of life. It's part of our job as adults to model for our children the toleration of feelings that accompany horrific tragedy, to join together in helping others in time of need, and to join together in resisting the aims of terrorist intent. It's a time to point out that acts of violence are never right or good.
10. Temper your own reactions when you're around your children and limit what you say.
While it's important to demonstrate our sadness and frustration, it's not good for children to witness enormous anxiety and fear. Children will learn to cope with strong feelings by watching
their parents and other adults cope with them. It's more constructive to help children put their feelings into words and to recognize the range of their feelings than, for example, to just demonstrate your own rage and fear. Keep your own speculations to yourself, or to times
when you're with other adults.