Hopefully I can post this in one message. Still from KatrinaD, from her posts on BeliefNet.
I make and maintain the website for my university's school of education. I posted this there, with the permission of the author. He gave permission for wide dissemination of this information.
Helping Children Cope With Terrorism: What Educators Can Do
Children will react differently to the terrorism and destruction they see on television or hear from others. Some will seem to come through the experience unscathed. They may even be excited about this "adventure." Later, once the thrill has worn off, some may begin to have delayed reactions. Others will react strongly from the start, even though they were not directly affected by these events. However, most children have normal and typical reactions to these abnormal circumstances.
Some of the common reactions you can expect to see are:
A need to talk about the events. Children will repeat the stories of these events many times. Even shy children will open up to strangers about what they saw, heard, felt and did during this time. Many children will worry about what happened to others and will ask many questions.
Sleep problems. For children under distress, the nighttime can seem especially threatening. Many children will be afraid to go to sleep and will be unable to sleep through the night. They will often have nightmares.
Separation anxiety. Some children will be afraid of being left alone anywhere, even if its only in another room at home. They may want to sleep with their parents at night. They may be afraid of leaving home to attend school. And they may constantly seek reassurance from their parents.
Worries and fears about terrorism. Most children will be much more vigilant about potential threats. They may notice strangers and may become apprehensive if they see an airliner in the sky.
Vivid memories of the catastrophe. Many children will picture in their minds detailed and powerful scenes of the terrorism. It's almost as if they have their own internal videotape that replays their experiences whenever a "trigger" reminds them of the events. They may draw many pictures of these scenes or even act out these events in their play.
Hyperactivity. Most adults will have a strong need to take some action after a catastrophe. If nothing else, they will pace the floor. Children will react similarly. They will become more active, will have difficulty paying attention, and will be more impulsive.
Emotional sensitivity or numbness. Many children will become much more sensitive. They will become upset easily and become angry quickly. But other children will seem to become numb or unfeeling. They won't show any sadness or anger, but they won't show any joy either. It's as if they are closing themselves off from any future hurts.
Physical complaints. Often children will complain more of headaches, stomach aches, nausea, and fatigue. \t
What Can You Do To Help?
As teachers, your goals are to help students to learn from their experiences, even those involving disasters, and to help them handle the distress that can interfere with them doing good school work. Here are some suggestions to achieve those goals:
Give your students time to deal with these experiences. Naturally, you will be feeling pressured to make up quickly the missed school days. But if you set aside time for students to acknowledge these tragic events, they will be better able to turn to the work at hand. You may decide, for example, to start your class by inviting students to participate in a moment of silence or you may encourage students to discuss their reflections and reactions. Of course, talking is only one of the ways to work through these reactions. Other ways are writing about the events and, especially for young children, drawing pictures or using puppets or toys to act out their experiences.
Be especially calm, respectfully acknowledge the reactions that students share, and show your concern. By your manner, you will be setting a powerful example of how students can manage their reactions in a productive way.
Remind them that these reactions are natural. Many children, like adults, will believe that something is wrong with themselves for feeling the way they do. They will need reassurance that their feelings are normal reactions to an abnormal situation. Finding out that their fellow students have had many of the same reactions also can be a great relief.
Control rumors. Following catastrophes of this magnitude, there is typically an information vacuum. People often fill it by passing along rumors. You can help to control rumors and reduce overreactions by stopping "tall tales" and giving students the facts.
Inform students of opportunities to help in the relief efforts. Many of our students want to make a positive difference and there are practical steps that they can take. For example, instead of food or clothing drives, which are not needed, they can raise funds for survivors. For the next couple of days, they can use the phone system sparingly. Finally, they can offer emotional support to those whose friends and relatives have been victimized.
Identify students who may be suffering severe distress. Students who had serious losses, such as the death of a loved one, may need professional help. Students who also need more help are those having extreme reactions, such as repeated nightmares, "flashbacks" of the events, crying spells, behavior problems, and strong phobic reactions.
Above all, convey to students that you are interested in being helpful as they deal with their distress. If students experience you as listening, understanding, and validating, they will feel less emotionally overwhelmed.
After the Terrorism: What Parents Can Do
By now, many children have witnessed, over and over again on television, the recent acts of horrific violence and destruction. As a parent, you may notice that your child may have...
Vivid memories about the events. Your child probably can remember detailed scenes of the incidents. He or she may draw many pictures of this scene or even act it out in play.
Questions and concerns. Your child may be asking numerous questions about the terrorism and may be frightened that the terrorism will occur again. Of course, it is important for children to be alert and concerned, but excessive worries keep children from enjoying life.
Upset feelings or listlessness. Your child may become upset or angry easily. Or your child may appear to be just the opposite and seem not to care about anything at all.
A need to talk about it. Your boy or girl may want to tell what happened again and again. Even a generally quiet child may talk a lot about what he or she saw, felt and did.
Trouble sitting still. Your child may now be more active, have problems paying attention, and be more impatient.
Nightmares and trouble sleeping. Your child may be afraid to go to sleep or wake up frightened from bad dreams.
Fears of being alone. Some children are afraid of being left alone. Your child may cling to you and may be afraid of leaving home to go to school.
Physical problems. Your child may suffer from headaches, stomach aches, nausea, and fatigue.
You can help your child through this difficult time by...
Letting your child talk about the incidents. It may be painful, but the best thing you can do for your child is to listen to the stories and to let him or her draw pictures or act out the incidents in their play. Talking, drawing and play-acting are healthy and natural ways for a child to work through reactions.
Comforting your child. Feel free to hold and comfort your child more during this time. Your child is reaching out to you for security right now, and a little extra love and affection will not spoil him or her.
Not being over-protective. This may be the most difficult for you to do, but you must fight the temptation to over-protect your child. It may be very hard even to let him or her out of your sight, but it's important that your child returns to a regular routine as soon as possible.
Being a good example. Actions speak louder than words, and by your actions, you can set an example for your child of how to handle these reactions in a productive way.
Encouraging your child to help. If your child is able, you may want to encourage him or her to make a positive difference by, for example, offering a donation to the Red Cross or other volunteer organizations.
Seeking help if your child is suffering severe problems. Your child needs more help if he or she is having extreme reactions, such as repeated nightmares, "flashbacks" of the blast, crying spells, behavior problems, and panic reactions.
I hope that these suggestions are helpful. The bottom line is that young people are resilient and resourceful. By taking a few moments to acknowledge the enormity of these events and the normality of their reactions, teachers and parents can help children learn valuable and fundamental lessons.
Lennis G. Echterling, Ph.D.
School of Psychology, MSC 7401
James Madison University
Harrisonburg, VA 22807