The frightening events of Sept. 11 have left many people struggling to maintain their normal routines. Children will be aware of the change, and their coping needs are different from those of adults.
The following are several practical strategies parents and teachers may use when talking with their children and students about tragedies.
OFFER REASSURANCE. Let children know that both parents and immediate family members are safe. It may be helpful for them to make phone calls to loved ones in order to learn first hand of their well-being.
MAINTAIN ROUTINE. Children are creatures of habit, and the structure of a predictable schedule is comforting. It is especially important that young children maintain their bedtime routine, and late night television viewing by their parents should not disrupt this important family ritual.
MONITOR YOUR MOOD. Children pay close attention to parents’ emotions. It is okay for your children to see that you are sad, but reassure them that you know how to cope with your feelings and that you are not upset with them.
INVITE QUESTIONS. Most parents are available to answer questions if the child initiates discussion. However, in this case, parents should approach their children and periodically ask them how they are feeling about the tragedy.
UNDERSTAND A CHILD’S TIME PERSPECTIVE. Adults often face tragedy head-on–watching and listening to news non-stop. A child’s approach may be more piecemeal–asking questions over a longer period of time, as he/she is reminded of the event in various ways. Observations of a lowered flag, tall building or airplane noise may lead to questions about the terrorist tragedy long after a parent had assumed the child had forgotten about this event.
TAKE ACTION. It may be helpful for a child to write a letter, send money to the Red Cross, etc. Doing something specific enables a child to decrease feelings of powerlessness and cope by taking action.
RALLY THE FAMILY. This tragedy is an occasion for families to renew their commitment to each other by reestablishing important traditions such as family prayer and Bible reading. For instance, it would be reassuring to a child for a family to pray and read appropriate psalms such as Psalms 23 and Psalms 46. Family members may take different responsibilities which will enable all members to feel an important part of the family unit. This will reassure the child that he is secure, his family is strong, and God is present.