What do we
say to the children about 9/11?
Parents are searching for ideas to help them guide,
reassure, and comfort their children. It is in a spirit of trying
to help, author Mac Bledsoe offers the following suggestions.
Life presents many grave circumstances to everyone,
and kids cannot be excluded from life's circumstances… by definition
kids are included. We can never protect kids from the realities of life.
What we must do is to teach them how to handle the tragedies that
confront them! Our actions, as adults, speak far louder than our words.
When my ancestors were crossing the plains in a covered wagon, I doubt
very much, that their kids often felt very safe. However, I am sure they
learned much about dealing with tragedy and fear by simply watching
their parents' actions.
Kids learn more from our backside than they do our front side! It is
imperative that we, as parents, be ever mindful of what we do and say in
the presence of kids. We must be ever mindful of hateful statements,
even if they may be intended only as rhetorical comment on the situation
at hand. We must be reasoned in our "thinking-out-loud" because kids
often take what we say literally.
Kids are probably very well served by seeing that adults experience
fear, anxiety, and times of great emotion. It then becomes acceptable
for them to have similar feelings. Of far greater significance, it is
even more important for them to see that these feelings, while deep and
honest, do not immobilize us. So too will they avoid being immobilized
by their feelings.
There is a false statement that rules the world of
some people and that idea is expressed with words like, "I simply can't
deal with this," or "This is simply more than I can handle." The truth
is simply that everyone can and does deal with every situation that
faces them! If a person chooses to lie on the floor kicking like a
maniac and screaming like a fool... that person is dealing with whatever
faced him/her. The true statement that we must model for kids is that we
all will deal with whatever faces us. However, the key idea we must
model for our kids is that we all get to choose the response we use to
deal with what faces us! What we need to model for our kids in times of
crisis and fear is that we can choose to be calm, supportive, and
thoughtful in our responses. This does not mean that we show no emotion
during tragic and frightening times, but rather that in the face of
terrible emotional and physical stress, we maintain an attitude of
reasoned response. This difficult but doable response will make kids
feel the safest in all situations.
We as parents must view these times of crisis as key
opportunities for the expression of love to our children. To quote our
"Parenting with Dignity" program, "The time kids most need to hear that
we love them is at the very time that we feel least able to say it." In
crisis we can become so consumed by the event and our fear for the
safety of our kids that we forget to confirm our love for them. We
highly recommend that all parents choose this as a time for going to our
list of "10
Ways of Communicating Love to Children" and focus on two or three of
these each day with each child. Remember too that it is not just the
child who shows the most outside evidence of trauma that is needful of
confirmation of our love. All kids need to know they are loved in times
of crisis. Show them!
One of the key ways to express love is to listen!
Give time to kids and simply listen carefully to their thoughts, fears,
and questions. You might be shocked at the wisdom of their ideas and
questions. As I have watched television reports of the tragedy that
struck our nation, kids have offered some of the most enlightening
comments and questions. Listen, listen, listen, and listen some more.
When listening to kids in times of crisis, it is imperative that parents
not fill silence by immediately offering their own ideas. (This would be
a good time to use the 6 "listening phrases" proposed under Listen on
our Messages of Love page of our website.) Kids usually need time to
phrase ideas and thoughts, especially when they are about large and
consequential events. Listen and wait… give them time to express
Give lots of time to your kids. Just seize the time
available. Take a walk, play a game, do a puzzle, pick them up from
school and go fishing or to the park, read a book, get down on the floor
and play with blocks or dolls… but spend time with them!
For kids who are old enough, it will be helpful to
cast historical perspective on the events that they are facing. Here is
a great time for parents to draw on the wisdom gained from experience of
older generations. Seek out grandparents and elderly friends who can
offer experiences of past crises so that kids can see hope for
themselves in this new situation. At times like this we, as parents, can
guide kids in the selection of heroes and role models. As kids begin to
make decisions about their own actions, having some great examples of
revered people who have acted reasonably and courageously in times past
will help kids to find the courage to act intelligently on their own
Give kids historical perspective by drawing
comparisons for them. For example, it might be helpful for kids to hear
questions like: "Does the United States have groups and organizations
who have some radical, violent, and hateful ideas at the core of their
philosophy? Does America have organizations like the Ku Klux Klan, the
Nazi party, the Black Panthers? Would it be reasonable to bomb the
United States because of the actions and ideas of those small, radical
groups? If those groups act upon their ideas of hatred and violence,
what would be a reasonable manner of dealing with their actions?"
Perhaps these questions will help you show your child that this tragedy
was the result of the hate of a minute number of people and is not a
Democracy teaches self worth. Democracy brings the
great comfort that comes with having and using the ability to make
decisions and exercising the right to take action. At times of crisis,
as the parent and adult, it may be necessary to take unilateral and
immediate action. However, as soon as possible it might be very helpful
for kids to be included in the decisions concerning actions to be taken
by the family. For example, kids might be included in selecting family
activities like memorials to attend, prayers and meditations to be
offered, ways to show respect and concern, news reports to watch or not
watch, or ways and times to get back to business-as-usual in the home.
If your child reverts to a behavior he/she has
outgrown, i.e. needing a comfort blanket, potty accidents, tantrums, it
simply may be a cry for you to "notice me" or "comfort me" because the
stress of the event is making the child feel uncomfortable. As usual,
try to ignore or minimize the inappropriate behavior and as soon as is
possible, reward appropriate behavior with a hug or an invitation for a
game, a walk or some other favorite activity.
Times of stress magnify problems for both parent and
child and simply point out the importance of using solid parenting
techniques and strategies. A solid base is necessary for weathering
difficult times. It is hard to involve yourself in your children's tough
times if you have not been involved all along!
One final thought that might overlay all of our comments
is simple in nature but might be one of the most valuable to kids as they
attempt to deal with this tragedy. Here it is:
America is a wonderful land of freedom, respect, and
joy. It remains so today but it will not remain so without a total
commitment from every citizen. The community we have in this great land
did not happen by chance; it happened because of the hard work, sacrifice,
and commitment of preceding generations. Kids will not know what it takes
to build and preserve our freedoms unless we teach them. Take them to meet
everyday heroes in hospitals, firehouses, churches, care shelters,
charitable organizations and other places where they can rub up against
the people who make us a great society.
Help them to understand what our flag stands for. It
stands for the freedoms of expression, religion, speech, press, and all
other freedoms we hold so dear. It might be even more important to show
them that the American flag also stands for a nation that is built on
service above self.
Freedom is not guaranteed by birthright; it is built by
built by selfless service to community and others. Guide your children to
find purpose for their lives in giving to their community through service
to others. Help them to join their church, service organizations, and
wholesome activities as a way of building strong communities.
Guide kids into YMCA/YWCA's, Boy/Girl Scouts, 4H,
Boys/Girls Clubs and other organizations that have as their backbone,
teaching kids to live lives of service. In doing so we build a strong and
resilient society for our kids to enjoy as we have, while in the process
we will be insuring that each of our children will personally know that
America is not defined by buildings and wealth but rather by our strong
character and sense of mutual respect and support for each other. We are a
nation of strong people but it has been no accident!
Teach kids that freedom is only guaranteed by the
efforts of individuals just like them all across this great land investing
their own efforts in their own communities!
(It seems interesting to note that many of the basic
principles upon which this land was created are the same principles that
work for effective parenting.)
God bless America
and her kids!
Dignity web site and learn about the good things they are doing to help