These recommendations are excerpts from an article written by Sheldon Berman, Sam Diener, Larry Dieringer, and Linda Lantieri.
How to talk with children about 9/11 and war and terror
1. How much media coverage of tragedies (9/11) or warfare is healthy for students to watch depends on the age and maturity of the children.
2. Parents need to decide which topics are appropriate. If children watch 9/11 documentaries, parents or caregivers need to watch with them.
3. It is important to limit the amount of television coverage children watch, regardless of age, and especially important to limit young children’s exposure to graphic images of violence.
4. Talking with children about what they saw and sharing their feelings and reactions are important steps to follow.
5. Because of the overwhelming amount of media information, kids can become confused about the facts and the magnitude of the danger they personally face. For example, in response to the commonly held belief among young students that tall buildings fell down many times in multiple locations on September 11, 2001, we could inform them, “Even though you might have seen the World Trade Center fall down many times as they replay pictures of those same two buildings falling down over and over again on TV, it happened once on that one day in New York City.”
6. Often children are hesitant to share their questions and fears with adults. For this reason, we recommend that adults create space for children to share their concerns. The key word here is listening. The best approach is to listen carefully to children’s spontaneous questions and comments, and then respond to them in an appropriate, supportive way. Let children’s concerns, in their own words, guide the direction and depth of the discussion.
7. It is more frightening for a child to think that no one is willing to talk about them. If we communicate by our silence that this event (9/11) is too scary or upsetting to talk about, then the children will experience fear that we are not able to take care of them.
8. How can I listen to children in the most effective and helpful way?
a. As you listen to children, show that you are interested and attentive. Try to understand what they are saying from their point of view. Don’t make judgments about what they say, no matter how silly or illogical it may sound to you at first.
b. If you don’t understand something, ask them to explain it. Show your respect for them and their ideas. Keep in mind that children are not always able to express what they mean or what they feel, and what they say doesn’t always mean the same.
c. Good listening also involves paying very careful attention to the things children may not be saying. Be aware of their nonverbal messages–facial expressions, fidgeting, gestures, posture, tone of voice, or others, which indicate that strong emotions may be present.
9. Be aware of signals young children send out through their play, their drawing and writing, their spontaneous conversation, and other ways they might communicate about their preoccupations. Young children often use their play instead of words to work out what they are hearing and observing them as they play can give us important clues about their thoughts and feelings. Especially with young children, be aware of other signs that could mean they are stressed, such as: irritability, sleep disturbances, separation problems, and regression in recent developmental accomplishments.
10. Sharing your own feelings with your children has some pitfalls.
A serious one is that you might burden them with your adult concerns, raising new questions and fears for them, rather than helping them deal with questions and fears they already have. Sometimes, children feel that they need to take care of our worries and us. However feelings can be shared in the form of reassurance, meaning letting the children know that their feelings are normal and that you feel similar.
If your own concerns/ feelings may be overwhelming, we must not impose our feelings on our children. We might seek out an adult support system. This might be a group of other adults with similar feelings that need to share and discuss their concerns and questions. If a support group isn’t practical, then you might find a competent, caring individual (such as a counselor/ therapist) to talk with to sort out your feelings. It then becomes easier to offer genuine help to children.
11. What can I say that is both comforting and reassuring?
Just by listening to children you are providing reassurance. By your ability to listen calmly, even to concerns, which might seem unrealistic, you communicate that their fears are not too frightening to deal with. By trying to understand children, you communicate that their feelings are neither abnormal nor silly, and you communicate the reassurance that they are not alone with their concerns. You can also help children find a way to step out of their position of powerlessness. You can tell them honestly that their concerns are quite healthy because people’s concern is the first step toward doing something to make the world safer. The most effective antidote to anxiety, fear, or powerlessness is action. Engage them in a conversation about the way in which their school is working to make it a more peaceful place and explore ways in which they might be an active part of the effort to create a peaceful community in their school, home and neighborhood.
Categories: Conscious Parenting