Talk with kids even when it#039;s tough

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 26, 2001

We hope that disastrous events won't happen anywhere and that they won't impact the children and young people we care about. We would like to protect them from the pain and horror of difficult situations and ensure that their lives are happy and innocent.

But it can't be that way. When terrible things happen, like last week's terrorist attacks, what do you say to children?

First, don't assume that they don't know about it.

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Nowadays, news travels far and fast. They see it on TV and hear others talking about it. Your not talking about it does not protect children. In fact, not talking about it may send the message that the subject is taboo.

Be available and "askable".

Let kids know it is okay to talk about unpleasant happenings. Listen to see whether they have misunderstandings. You don't need to explain more than they are ready to hear, but be willing to answer their questions. Use simple, straightforward language with children age five and under. Explain that a few bad people didn't care about hurting others and did a terrible thing.

Share your feelings with the children.

Let them know that you feel angry, frustrated or afraid. Tell them how you deal with such feelings. But, be careful not to frighten or overwhelm them. Some teens may not want to talk about it at all and that is why it is especially important for parents to share their own feelings with them.

Let children express their feelings through art and music. They may want to draw pictures, or use music or puppets to express how they feel. Encourage such creative outlets.

Reassure young people and help them feel safe. Children may be afraid that the same thing will happen to them. Tell them that such tragedies are rare and that a terrorist attack affecting them personally isn't very likely. Do say that no matter what happens, you will always love them.

Often, that is all they need to hear to feel better. Assure them too, that parents and teachers are doing everything in their power to assure them of their safety.

Be supportive of children's concern for people they do not know. They may worry about the people who were hurt. They may want to raise money for the Red Cross or a similar helping organization. Encourage such caring attitudes and give them some ideas of ways they can help.

Look for feelings beyond fear. Studies have shown that after such tragedies, children may also feel sad or angry. Let them express their full range of emotions, and support the development of empathy.

Help children and youth find a course of action. One important way to reduce stress is to take action-to do something. This is true for both adults and children. Children may want to write a letter to someone about their feelings, or send money to help the victims' families. Children often have wonderful ideas-listen to them.

Take action and get involved in something yourself. Children feel hope when they see their parents, teachers or caregivers working to make a difference. They feel safer and more positive about the future. Do something. It will make you feel more hopeful, too.

The web site for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System has posted an exhaustive set of links to organizations involved in disaster relief efforts under way in New York and Washington. Go to At the home page click on Tragedy Relief Efforts.