by Wilma Ruffin, Ph.D.

RAINBOWS, an international organization, provides a bridge to emotional healing for children, adolescents, and adults confronting death, divorce or other painful family transitions. RAINBOWS has developed age-directed curricula and training for community volunteers to establish grief support groups in communities by linking schools, churches, synagogues, and agencies with families in need.

The RAINBOWS organization has developed an excellent program with concepts and tenants that appropriately address the crisis we currently face as a nation. The international office has responded to the horrific events of September 11, 2001 by compiling a packet that can be used in response to inquiries about children's grief. These materials can also be used continuously since grief is often a long-term process for children and adults.

For example, "Children and teens need adults to guide them through the reality and aftermath of the recent terrorist attacks in Washington and New York," says Suzy Yehl Marta, president and founder of the RAINBOWS international grief-support organization. "This is an unprecedented crisis. As the caregivers and protectors of our youth, it is our obligation to help them. Working together, we will learn to pick up and move forward," she said.

The organization has served nearly one million youth struggling with emotional issues of death, divorce, and family loss. The organization's crisis programs have also been implemented in violence-torn Northern Ireland, in the aftermath of large-scale natural disasters in the U.S., and to assist families devastated by the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl.

To help children and teens cope with America's crisis, Marta suggests: adults and kids watch and/or read TV and newspaper reports together. This allows you to see and hear what the child is learning about the event and to limit the children's exposure to media coverage. Too much information can be overwhelming, especially for younger children.

Marta advises parents to sit close to their children and to act as tactile as possible ­ cuddling, hugging, touching arm or shoulder ­ even with teens or older children. Maintain the child or teen's routine. Following normal schedules for school, homework, activities and bedtime, provides much needed structure during the chaos.

Acknowledge the tragedy. Explain and share the facts as best as you can. If children aren't told the real facts, they create their own, sometimes even more terrifying versions of events. At the same time, limit the child's exposure to media coverage to keep him or her from being overwhelmed.

Talk to them about what has happened. Don't wait for the child to initiate the conversation. It's the adult's job to start the discussion. Use words children understand, share your feelings and thoughts, and more importantly, be honest.

Use games and propose to stimulate conversation. Hands-on, age-appropriate activities help children and teens articulate their thoughts, feelings and concerns.

Young children: Give the child a piece of paper and ask him or her to draw a picture of the tragedy and/or picture of how they are feeling. Then talk about what they've drawn.

Pre/young adolescents: Ask the child to play the role of reporter and to interview you (classmates or friends) about the attacks. Encourage the child to ask the questions that they want to know the answers to. For example: What happened? What did you see? How has the tragedy affected you? How do you feel? How should we react to what happened?

Teens: Give the adolescent a lump of clay and ask him or her to mold it to reflect their feelings or thoughts about what they've watched on television or read in the newspapers.

Answer all questions as best you can. If you're unsure of the information, it's okay to say, "I don't know." At the same time you are giving children information, it's important to determine just how much they understand about recent events. Ask them what they think or believe.

Be patient. As time passes, chances are questions and concerns will increase.

Teach tolerance. "We live in a diverse country with people of many nationalities and races," says Marta. "We should not blame them for the tragedy or be afraid of any of them." Assure children that the government will learn who is responsible for the attacks and will respond accordingly.

Offer assurance for the future. Explain government security measures; tell the children how these are being strengthened and what steps are being taken to prevent, as far as humanly possible, another attack of this nature.

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System has three registered RAINBOWS directors. They are Extension Family and Human Development Specialist Dr. Wilma J. Ruffin at Alabama A&M University, County Extension Agent Janice Harper in Jefferson County-Birmingham, and County Extension Agent Amanda Outlaw in Mobile County-Mobile. For more information about RAINBOWS, please contact these individuals as follows:

Dr. Ruffin ­ 256-858-4960 (wruffin@aces.edu)
Mrs. Harper ­ 256-325-5342 (jharper@aces.edu)
Mrs. Outlaw ­ 256-574-8445 (aoutlaw@aces.edu)

For a packet of activities that can be used during this crisis, please contact the agency at:

2100 Golf Road, #370
Rolling Meadows, IL 60008
1-800-266-3206 or email: info@rainbows.org


Return to Metro News...