It is certainly understandable that parents, teachers, and caregivers are struggling with feelings about how to communicate with children about the tragic events in the news. These are emotional times for all of us. Anything that involves such great loss and devastation is bound to reawaken previous fears and significant losses in our own lives. As with all concerns about childhood, there aren't magic answers. However, we are glad to share with you some of our thoughts for helping children cope with the fears and uncertainties that these events may have aroused, and we hope they may be helpful for you.

Help the children feel secure

Let children know that we adults and our government are doing our best to keep them safe and to care for their needs. We can also do our best to keep things as normal as possible. Familiar routines comfort children and can go a long way toward providing security.

Focus on the helpers

When I was a boy and would see scary things on the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, that's where I focus my attention -- to the many caring people in this world.

Limit children's television viewing of the news events

Even very young children drink in television images, and the younger the children are, the more likely they are to be interested in close-up faces. Think of what we've seen recently on the news. Those images are clearly too graphic and disturbing for young children.

Limit your own television viewing

It's very tempting to get drawn into watching news around the clock, but adults must resist that temptation because it can lead to a feeling of hopelessness and despair, which their children may sense.

Be a good listener

Even if we wanted to, it would be impossible to help young children understand about devastating news events. If they ask questions, your best answer may be to ask them, "What do you think happened?" If the answer is "I don't know," then the simplest reply might be, "I'm sad about the news, and I'm worried. But I love you, and I am here for you."

If parents don't bring up the subject, children may be left at the mercy of their misinterpretations. Parents may want to ask their children to tell them what they have heard. They might be surprised at how much they have heard from others.

Listening doesn't only happen through our ears. Children have many ways to let us know that something upsets them. Some children hold in their sad and angry feelings at first. They may let those feelings out weeks or months later.

Monitor children's play

Play is one of the important ways children can work through their concerns. Of course, some play can be scary and unsafe. At times like that, adults should be nearby to redirect the play into caring and nurturing themes, perhaps by suggesting the building of the hospital for the wounded or making a pretend meal for the emergency helpers.

Help your children learn to handle anger constructively

One of the most important messages we can give our children is, "It's okay to be angry, but it's not okay to hurt." Anger is a natural and normal feeling, in families and among friends. Besides allowing children the right to their anger, we can also help them find constructive things to do with their angry feelings -- things that don't hurt others or themselves or damage things. By showing children how to deal with their angry feelings in healthy ways, we are giving them useful tools that will serve them all life long and helping them to be the world's future peacemakers.


Copyright 2001 Family Communications, Inc. 4802 Fifth Avenue Pittsburgh, PA 15213. Used with permission.

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