9/11, Iraq and Kids: Tips for Parents

by Anita Gurian, PhD and Joshua Mandel, Psy.D.

The attacks of 9/11 and the ongoing conflict in Iraq have heightened our concerns about the physical and psychological well-being of our children. The articles included in this section address issues such as talking to children, identifying possible difficulties, providing help and reassurance and fostering resilience.

Tips for Helping Kids Feel Safe in Stressful Times

by Joshua Mandel, Psy.D. and Anita Gurian, Ph.D.

General

  • Maintain a calm attitude, which conveys to children that parents are in control and making sure children are safe. Provide reassurance that adults, from the corner policeman to government officials, are working hard to protect us.
  • Continue family routine as much as possible; familiarity is comforting to children.
  • Monitor exposure to media. Watch news with children when possible, and limit access, if necessary.

Talking to Kids

  • Encourage children to talk about what they have heard and what they are feeling. Talking about tough issues will not increase a child's fear; not expressing scared feelings is more damaging than open discussion.
  • Tailor your responses to the child's personality style and temperament. Some children are more fearful than others and may become more anxious with too much detail. Others may become immune to news of violence and become numb.
  • Find a balance between flooding children with more information than they need and over-protecting them by withholding information.
  • Be honest in your answers and use language children can understand.
  • Consider the age of the child, since children relate the news to issues in their own lives
    • Young children confuse facts and fantasies. They don't have the ability to keep events in perspective and may think something happening in the media may happen to them.
    • School-age children, in the midst of peer struggles, are concerned with issues of fairness and punishment, may demonstrate new fears and avoidant behavior.
    • Teens consider larger issues related to ethics and politics. They may feel a need to take action. Since children's attitudes and understanding change over time have multiple conversations.

Anniversary of 9/11

Anniversaries may bring up unpleasant memories for many people, particularly those personally affected by the attacks, and they may re-awaken old fears. Anniversaries, however, also present opportunities for memorialization and enable people to share memories and look ahead. The following are some points to keep in mind:

  • Provide choices—consider how options fit individual family needs (e.g., part of large gathering or private event with friends and family)
  • Have a plan which includes all family members
  • Be aware and coordinate with school plans
  • Be calm and supportive, modeling healthy expression of feelings and control

When to seek professional help

Consider consultation with a mental health professional if your child's fears persist, interfere with his or her ability to enjoy family and friends, or participate in school and recreational activities for several months.

Staying Safe in Emergencies—Planning Ahead for Families

by Joshua Mandel, Psy.D. and Anita Gurian, Ph.D.

Since the September 11th attacks in 2001, our nation's sense of security has been shaken, highlighting the importance of having a family plan to deal with emergencies. In addition to the possibility of future terrorist attacks, a plan will help families deal with emergency situations such as hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and forest fires. An emergency preparedness plan can make the difference between a state of confusion and staying safe. The following are some tips to insure family safety.

Creating an Emergency Preparedness Plan

  • All members of the family should participate in the plan, but keep in mind that children's reactions are influenced by their parents' mood and manner of presentation. Parents should explain the reasons for the plan in a calm and reassuring manner in an atmosphere that will encourage children to express their emotions. Creating a plan will normalize the experience as a part of life and enable family members to feel that they have some control over their reactions to events.
  • Be honest and use language children can understand. Find a balance between flooding children with too much information and overprotecting them by withholding appropriate information.
  • Consider the age of the child.
    • Young children confuse facts and fantasies. They don't have the ability to keep events in perspective and may think something happening in the media may happen to them.
    • School-age children may demonstrate new fears and avoidant behaviors and need support.
    • Teens consider issues related to ethics and politics. They may feel a need to take action
  • Reassure children that adults and other professionals (parents, police and fire departments, schools, mayors and other government officials) are working hard to protect them.
  • Discuss possible sources of threat—flood, fire, earthquake, hurricance—but avoid over-dramatization.

Components of Plan

  • Each person should have contact information (home, office, cell phone numbers of a designated friend or relative's phone numbers; other critical phone numbers). Be aware of school preparedness plans and contact personnel.
  • Specifics for meeting if family members are separated
  • Arrangements for family members who may need special care
  • Emergency supplies at home
    • Supplies of water and canned food to last at least three days, packed in portable containers and stored in a safe place
    • Flashlight, batteries, first-aid kit, blankets, sanitation suppli es, personal items
    • Money and cell phone
  • Emergency supplies in backpacks. Some parents will want their children to keep water and non-perishable snacks in their backpacks
  • Review and practice plan with members of the family.

Articles on War, Trauma, Terrorism and Tragedy

Caring for Kids After Trauma, Disaster and Death: A Guide for Parents and Professionals, 2nd Ed.
(65 pages, PDF)

CSC Letter: The Aftermath of Disaster: Helping Children Affected by Trauma and Death (PDF)

Talking to Kids About Violent Images of War

Helping Children and Teens Cope with Traumatic Events and Death: The Role of School Health Professionals

Kids and Terrorism: Supporting Our Children in Times of Crisis

Coping with Trauma

Guidelines for Coping With the Anniversary of a Trauma or Death

Helping Children Feel Safe in Unsafe Times

Attending Funerals or Memorial Services

Children and Grief: What they Know, How They Feel, How to Help

Talking to Kids About Terrorism or Acts of War
(Spanish Version PDF)

At War with Iraq: Tackling Tough Issues with Kids

Bioterrorism: Talking with Kids About Threats They Can't See

9/11

Planning for the Anniversary of Traumatic Events—A Practical Guide for Educators (PDF)

Attack on the U.S.: Guidelines for Parents
(Spanish Version)

Attack on the U.S.: Guidelines for Teachers in the Classroom

Special Celebrations and Holidays: Helping Bereaved Children

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD in Children Questionnaire

Disorder Guide: PTSD

Resiliency

Building Resilience in Children in the Face of Fear and Tragedy

CSC Letter: Children's Resilience in the Face of Trauma

Books

9/11

Juliana Lee Hatkoff and Craig M. Hatkoff
Ladder 35, Engine 40

Willow Bay
Talking to Your Kids in Tough Times: How to Answer Your Child's Questions About the World We Live In

from Child Magazine
Feeling Safe: Talking to Children About War and Terrorism

PTSD

For Parents

Goodman, R.F., Henderson Fahnestock, A., Giuliani, R.W.
The Day Our World Changed: Children's Art of 9/11

Dumas, L.S.
Talking With Your Child About a Troubled World

Straus, M.A., Gelles, R.J., & S.K. Steinmetz, S.K. (1980)
Behind Closed Doors: Violence in the American Family
Anchor Books

For Children

Aboff, M., & Gartner, K. (1996)
Uncle Willy's Tickles
Magination Press

Freeman, L., & Deach, C. (1984)
It's My Body
Parenting Press

Trottier, M., & Friedman, J. (1997)
A Safe Place
Albert Whitman