What to Tell Your Children

Submitted by Elaine Thrower

Most people show some signs of emotional disturbance as an immediate reaction to a disaster such as a plane crash or bombing. Children are no exception, particularly when a tragedy of such magnitude touches and alters the lives of so many families. In the aftermath, your children may exhibit some or all of the following:

Fear and anxiety: Anxiety about recurrence of the disaster, injury, death, separation, and loss
Sleep disturbance: Resistance to bedtime, refusal to sleep alone and recurrent nightmares are common
School avoidance: The major reason for not wanting to go to school is fear of being separated from and loosing loved ones.

How can parents help their children? When tragedy strikes and is brought into our lives via ongoing media coverage, parents can be there to listen, to support, to explain, and to reassure. Here's how:

Give children accurate information about what happened
Share what you know about the disaster and its impact on those closest to the tragedy. Children are most fearful when they do not understand what's happening around them. Acknowledge that this was a terrible, senseless act of violence.

Limit television viewing of media coverage
Children of pre-school-age and younger may be disturbed by the graphic photos of injured people. For this reason, their TV viewing should be restricted and allowed only when parents or other supportive adults are present. Even older children can be bothered by the images, and need limits on their television viewing. As families view together, parents should listen carefully to their children and answer questions honestly.

Encourage verbal expression
Allow children to express their feelings of frustration, anger, and fear. Assure them that their feelings are normal and that you share many of those same feelings. You may notice aggressive behavior in younger children who cannot express their feelings verbally.

Be comforting and reassuring
Physically hold your children and spend more time with them. Younger children, in particular, may cling to you. They may fear going to school or other child care settings. Assure them that you will do your best to protect them and keep them safe.

Assure children that those responsible will be caught
Children may fear that the "bad people" will strike again. Advise your children that law enforcement officials are working very hard to ensure everyone's safety and that those responsible for the bombing will be caught and punished.

Cultivate a positive outlook
Remind children that most people are good and kind and would never harm children or other adults. During television viewing, point out the hundreds of doctors, nurses, firefighters, rescue workers, law enforcement, and other volunteers who are contributing to the rescue efforts.

A tragedy like this affects everyone - old and young alike. Adults, like children, need to share their frustration and disbelief, and need to talk out their fears with others. Talking with family members, co-workers, and friends may help. If you're feeling anxious and depressed, you might also seek out professional counseling through your company's Employee Assistance professional.