Let kids talk it out, experts say

LIBERTY -- In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, Joe Marzano's son had one simple question:
"Why, Daddy?"
Marzano had no simple answer.
"We have to assure the kids that this isn't a world that has gone amok and everything is out of control," said Marzano, pastor of Grace in the Wilderness Fellowship in West Middlesex, Pa.
"There is evil in the world, and there is good. Even in the midst of bad things, God is in control."
What to do: Assuring children that they're safe and allowing them to express their fears are among the most important steps adults can take as the nation continues to grapple with the horrific images of 15 days ago and prepares for the unknown in the days ahead, a panel of doctors, therapists, social workers and pastors said at a forum Tuesday evening at Belmont Pines Hospital.
"It matters less what you tell the children than what the children tell you," said Dr. Phillip Maiden, Belmont Pines medical director.
Sixteen teachers and guidance counselors attended the forum and said most children seem to be handling the terrorism aftermath well.
Some teachers said there are fears and concerns among some teen-age boys about the military draft. There have been some anti-Arab slurs in schools, and the teaching staffs themselves are feeling much stress, others said.
Maiden said it's important not to "over-medicalize" the situation. Most children will handle the crisis fine, he said. Kids that won't are likely to be those who had emotional problems before the terrorist attacks.
Maiden and other panelists said some children may likely be more aggressive and anxious or have physical symptoms like headaches or bellyaches. Small children are likely to ask more questions.
"Adolescents, on the other hand, try to pretend they don't care so much about the world -- it's no big deal," Maiden said. "You want to find out what they're thinking and feeling."
Dr. Krishna Duvulappalli, a Belmont Pines psychiatrist, said parents and teachers should be attuned to any changes in behavior among children. "We don't know the long-term repercussions," he said.
What to watch for: Eric Ritz, director of the hospital's social work-counseling department, said adults also should be on the lookout for signs of post traumatic stress disorder, including flashbacks, nightmares, overt aggression and agitation and sleep disturbances.
Marzano said parents shouldn't allow their children to watch television news coverage. "I think sometimes that fear just feeds itself," he said.
Despite the horror of the attacks, Maiden emphasized there are positive teaching opportunities, such as writing letters of support to victims and helping in relief efforts.
"It gets children focused on doing something to help," he said.

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