How to help our children in case of war or acts of terrorism

As the Bush administration marches the world towards war, our collective anxiety mounts and it is our children who feel our fear most intensely. We must think about how to reassure and help our children. This is certainly no small task, when we are grappling to understand it ourselves. Since our children look to us for this very thing, we must not let them down. I offer the following suggestions gleaned from my own practice and experience, and some of the wisdom of others:

For very young children, under the age of five, give tangible support­ hugs, kisses, teddy bears, etc. Permit them to sleep with you or with siblings if they ask for it. Give lots of verbal reassurance­ “We will be O.K.” “There are lots of good people out there doing lots of good things.” Allow children to express their emotions through drawings and activities.

For children age 5 to 11, speak frankly but in simple terms they can understand. Don’t tell them more than they can understand or handle. But don’t lie to them either. Lying will only increase their anxiety. Get involved in productive activity. Plan an activity you will do at a later time. Stay involved with life, in your own way, whatever that means to you. It is very frightening to us all when life stops for too long. Maintain your routines and help the children maintain theirs. Our routines sustain us. Bear in mind that not all children are the same. Most children of this age are not interested in the news. Most children of this age need to be protected from the media coverage. It is not geared for them. There may be some children who are drawn to it and insist upon watching. For these children, watch it with them and answer their questions. Everything is more bearable when we face it together.

For children 11 to 14, in addition to many of the suggestions above, talk with them, reassure them and let them know you love them. Encourage them to verbally express their feelings and assist them to become involved with others of their age. Help them to maintain their routines and structure in their lives.

For children 14 to 18, in addition to the suggestions above, be available if they want to talk. Share your own feelings as a role model. Help them to connect this disaster with others that have occurred in other times in history. We, as many have before us, will find the courage to rebuild and perhaps even make this world a better one because of all our united efforts.

And most importantly, remember, that in helping our children we help ourselves. Our children are looking to us for guidance, help, courage and strength, understanding and assurance. They are looking for our love. If you want to know you are safe, cause your child to know they are safe. If you wish to better understand seemingly incomprehensible things, help your child to better understand. If you wish to heal your own sadness or anger, seek to heal the sadness or anger of your child.

I am also enclosing several helpful links from mental health groups across the U.S. which offer helpful advice for assisting children in crisis situations. With courage in our hearts we will help our children and ourselves to bring forth a better world.

May Peace Prevail,
— Doc Robin

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