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What to Tell Your Children at Times of Traumatic Events

At times of traumatic events such as that unfolded on Tuesday, September 11, when America was under attack by terrorists, it is important that how we handle our children. Many young children are incapable of fully grasping the significance of what is happening. Your objective should be to convey to children that they are safe and what they are seeing on TV is not something that is going to happen to them. Many recommend that we do not allow children to watch the repeated images flashed on the TV.

Your kids may have sleepless nights, flares of temper or anxiety in the next few days. That is quite normal. The tragic events are just as tough on kids as they are on adults.

Here are some tips for helping children cope:

  • Get out a map and show young kids where the bombings occurred and "where they are in relation to them. You want to help them understand the physical distance between them and events.

  • Give kids of all ages a chance to talk about what they know and how they feel.

  • Don't be alarmed if kids tell stories or play games about bombings or airplane crashes; it's their way of processing the event.

  • Children under 5 will probably want reassurance that their families are safe.

  • Slightly older kids know that parents can't protect them from bombs. Instead of making unrealistic promises, reassure them the government is doing everything it can.

  • Adolescents probably will want information about what happened and why. You may want to watch and talk about the news together.

  • Try to be matter-of-fact when talking to your children. Assure them that while it's OK to feel angry, it's not OK to take that anger out on other people or groups.

Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 12, 2001
Dr. Nicholas Santilli, John Carroll University, Cleveland, Ohio.
Dr. Donald Freedheim, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio.

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