Sept. 12---Many American children will be coping with feelings
of insecurity and vulnerability in the aftermath of the terrorist
attacks on New York and Washington and will need help from parents
and adults to work through these emotions.
"Parents need to assume that their child knows
enough about what happened to be disturbed by it," says Dr.
Ellen Abell, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System family and
child development specialist. They also need to be aware that
children will react differently and to be alert to their childrenís
moods and behavior."
"Itís likely children over age 3 will first
react with fear, wondering if such a thing could happen to
Interviews with children and parents during and
after similar tragedies have shown fears and worry were the chief
Such reactions may be especially acute following
this tragedy because many of the victims may turn out to be
Similar tragedies involving only adults, though
disturbing, are often not as compelling to children.
The best way for parents to address their childrenís
fear is simply to provide realistic assurance, Abell says.
"Without going into details about the tragedy,
parents should assure their children that a terrorist attack
involving them personally isnít very likely," she says.
"Itís also important for children to know their parents and
teachers are doing everything in their power to ensure their
Knowing what to say to children may be tough for
parents who are grappling with their own sense of fear and anger. In
such cases, Abell says, parents should tailor their response to
their childís age.
For example, preschoolers through age 5 who show
concern about the tragedy should be approached with simple, but
"Parents should explain that a few people didnít
care about hurting others and did a dangerous thing," Abell
says. "But they should also talk about how such tragedies are
rare and probably never will happen to them."
Parents need to be aware that young children may not
be able to verbalize their concern, she says. If the children seem
to undergo behavior changes without verbalizing their concerns,
parents may want to inquire if theyíve heard or seen anything that
has scared them.
"If they do express concern, this is the
appropriate time to talk with them," she says.
"One effective approach would be for parents to
discuss their own feelings about the tragedy, while helping their
children understand that an event as scary as this shouldnít prevent them
from enjoying their lives to the fullest."
Itís also important to address why "bad"
people acted with way they did and to discuss other ways they could
have promoted their cause more constructively and without bloodshed,
Some teenagers may not want to discuss the event at
all, Abell says, and that is why it is especially important for
parents to share their own feelings with them. Teenagers, in fact,
often tend to respond to parents willing to describe their own
reactions and questions about the event, she says.
There are a variety of other creative ways to help
children work through their feelings. One approach would be to help
raise money for the Red Cross or some other charitable group to
support victims of the tragedy. Another would be to encourage
younger children to draw pictures of the tragedy.
"Itís important throughout this ordeal that
children be reminded of all that people are doing to work through
the disaster and to help people who have been affected," Abell
says. "They also need to understand that when something bad
happens there are always good people ready to step forward to
Maybe most important, Abell says, is for parents to
remember that children will need a lot of hugs and encouragement in
the weeks and months to come.