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Let children express how they feel, experts warn



Published: Wed, September 12, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



One school psychologist recommended not allowing small children to view the news footage of the attacks.

By RON COLE

VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Answer questions. Listen. And be honest.

That's the advice area psychologists, counselors and educators have for how to talk to children of all ages -- from toddlers to teen-agers -- about Tuesday's terrorist attacks.

"We should share with them the truth," said Dr. Francene Haymon of Slippery Rock University's Student Counseling Center.

"I don't think we should ever hide whatever we are feeling ourselves. You, as a parent, should say, 'I feel helpless and I feel threatened and I feel fear, just like anybody else, but if we really connect and talk to each other and really show how much we're supporting each other, we can get through this.'"

Schools: Parents and teachers across the country confronted many questions from their children and pupils as the attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., unfolded Tuesday morning, and those questions may continue for quite a while, local experts said.

"I think the next four or five months are going to be difficult to make some sense out of all of this chaos," said Mary Brown, a psychologist with the Columbiana County Educational Service Center.

Brown said that she was at Crestview Elementary School on Tuesday morning and that children in the school, kindergarten to age four, weren't told of the attacks.

"We're letting parents handle it because I'm not sure what parents' views are on this," she said.

Brown recommended not allowing small children to watch the news coverage.

"It seems surreal," she said. "I don't think people can grapple with it. I'm having trouble, and I'm an adult. I wouldn't probably let my children watch it. I might tell them that there's some things going on in the world, but I don't know if I'd let them see the footage."

Let them ask: Dr. C. Jay Hertzog, dean of Slippery Rock University's education school, said teachers should allow their students to ask questions.

"I think the first thing you do is sit down with the kids and say, 'Is there anything you want to talk about? Is there anything you're concerned about?'" he said.

"You let them vent it out and see what they're saying and what they're thinking and get to know where they're coming from. And then deal with the issues that come up."

Cindy Detwiler, pupil personnel director for the Mahoning County Educational Service Center, said children should be encouraged to express their emotions, either by talking, drawing a picture or maybe writing an essay.

"Kids are very, very different," said Detwiler, a school psychologist. "Some will just shrug and not feel this is really related to us or imminent, and some will be really upset."

She also suggested that teachers periodically bring up the subject in class "to make sure [students] have the opportunity to talk and feel that it's OK to do."

Warning: Hertzog said teachers shouldn't ignore the attacks.

"You can't run from it," he said. "This is a teachable moment on how to teach values, respect for human life, how to resolve conflict. These are all issues that teachers will have to address."




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