Tuesday's acts of terrorism are unprecedented in the American experience. Children may be confused or frightened by the news and will look to adults for information and guidance on how to react.
FOR ALL ADULTS
UModel calm and control. Children take their emotional cues from the significant adults in their lives. Avoid appearing anxious or frightened.
UReassure children that they are safe and so are the other important adults in their lives. Explain that these buildings were targeted for their symbolism and that schools, neighborhoods, and regular office buildings are not at risk.
URemind them that trustworthy people are in charge. Explain that the government emergency workers, police, firefighters, doctors, and even the military are helping people who are hurt and are working to ensure that no further tragedies occur.
ULet children know that it is OK to feel upset. Explain that all feelings are OK when a tragedy like this occurs. Let children talk about their feelings and help put them into perspective. Even anger is OK, but children may need help and patience from adults to assist them in expressing these feelings appropriately.
UObserve children's emotional state. Depending on their age, children may not express their concerns verbally. Changes in behavior, appetite and sleep patterns can also indicate a child's level of grief, anxiety or discomfort. Children will express their emotions differently. There is no right or wrong way to feel or express grief.
UTell children the truth. Don't try to pretend the event has not occurred or that it is not serious. Children are smart. They will be more worried if they think you are too afraid to tell them what is happening.
UStick to the facts. Don't embellish or speculate about what has happened and what might happen. Don't dwell on the scale or scope of the tragedy, particularly with young children.
UKeep your explanations developmentally appropriate. Early elementary school children need brief, simple information that should be balanced with reassurances that the daily structures of their lives will not change. Upper elementary and early middle school children will be more vocal in asking questions about whether they truly are safe and what is being done at their school. They may need assistance separating reality from fantasy. Upper middle school and high school students will have strong and varying opinions about the causes of violence in schools and society. They will share concrete suggestions about how to make school safer and how to prevent tragedies in society. They will be more committed to doing something to help the victims and affected community. For all children, encourage them to verbalize their thoughts and feelings. Be a good listener!
UFocus on your children. Tell them you love them and everything will be OK. Try to help them understand what has happened, keeping in mind their developmental level.
UMake time to talk with your children. Remember if you do not talk to your children about this incident someone else will. Take some time and determine what you wish to say.
UStay close to your children. Your physical presence will reassure them and give you the opportunity monitor their reaction. Many children will want actual physical contact. Give plenty of hugs. Let them sit close to you, and make sure to take extra time at bedtime to cuddle and to reassure them that they are loved and safe.
ULimit the amount of your child's television viewing of these events. If they must watch, watch with them for a brief time; then turn the set off. Don't sit mesmerized re-watching the same events over and over again.
UMaintain a "normal" routine. To the extent possible, stick to your family's normal routine for dinner, homework, chores, bedtime, etc., but don't be inflexible. Children may have a hard time concentrating on schoolwork or falling asleep at night.
USpend extra time reading or playing quiet games with your children before bed. These activities are calming, foster a sense of closeness and security, and reinforce a sense of normalcy. Spend more time tucking them in. Let them sleep with a light on if they ask for it.
USafeguard your children's physical health. Stress can take a physical toll on children as well as adults. Make sure your children get appropriate sleep, exercise and nutrition.
UConsider praying or thinking hopeful thoughts for the victims and their families. It may be a good time to take your children to church or the synagogue, write a poem, or draw a picture to help your children express feelings and feel that they are somehow supporting the victims and their families.
UFind out what resources your school has in place to help children cope.
XSource: The National Association of School Psychologists.