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Talk to Children About Terrorism

The news reports may not be intended to alarm children, but the 24-hour media coverage, as well as parents and other adults around them watching the television screen and discussing the tragedy, makes it virtually impossible to shield children from the fact that the adults in their life are concerned and upset.

Children in the Midwest may not be directly affected by the tragic events surrounding the terrorist attacks in Boston, but they may be frightened or confused about what it all means, according to a parenting specialist with the North Dakota State University Extension Service.

“The news reports may not be intended to alarm children, but the 24-hour media coverage, as well as parents and other adults around them watching the television screen and discussing the tragedy, makes it virtually impossible to shield children from the fact that the adults in their life are concerned and upset,” says Kim Bushaw, NDSU Extension Service family life specialist.

School responses and other security measures in the community also can heighten a child’s level of concern and anxiety.

"The heightened level of attention and stress makes it all the more necessary for the adults in their lives, such as parents, teachers, child-care providers and grandparents, to help children cope and process this event," Bushaw says.

An NDSU Extension Service publication, “Talking to Children About Terrorism,” which is available at http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/familyscience/terrorism, offers age-appropriate responses for parents and others to use in talking to children about terrorism.

Some of the advice for various age groups in the publication includes:

  • Young children - Preschool children will be very confused by these events. Many young children do not know how to tell if something happened to them or to other people. They will be very sensitive to what adults are feeling. Young children can be an important asset to adults at this time, too. Holding and hugging young children can be reassuring to adults and children.
  • Elementary school children - Some school-age children will want explanations of the events and the factors involved. It is important to assess each child's level of understanding to see if he or she is capable of understanding the difference between the news media reports and the entertainment shows they're used to watching. Help school-age children understand where the attacks occurred and where the city is in relation to your location. They will benefit from expressing their ideas in various forms, such as drawing and other creative art, writing and music. Children also would benefit from taking some kind of action such as writing letters or cards of support.
  • Adolescents – This age group will want more details and will have more skills and coping strategies to deal with the event, but they still will not deal with it the same way as adults. Because adolescents tend to look at the world in a black-and-white fashion, they may want to know who the bad and good guys are. It would be helpful to guide them toward separating the evil of the event from the value of people. Adolescents easily could take the emotions of the event as a call to paint entire groups as enemies or evil. They may be able to understand that the concerns of groups may be legitimate but that using violence, whether it is a fist, bomb or another weapon, is never the best way to deal with frustration or anger.
  • Young Adults - While people in this age group often feel invulnerable, events this traumatic and close to home may shake their certainty. Young adults will be more knowledgeable than children about the nature of the attacks, and the consequences and their fears will be more realistic. Their methods of coping with those fears may not be. Young adults tend to focus on the cause and may want to take some kind of action. Older adults can help them keep this in perspective and guide them to positive outlets such as collecting money for victims, or attending a vigil or memorial service.

For additional information about how to help children cope with crisis or disaster, contact Bushaw at (701) 231-7450, kim.bushaw@ndsu.edu; Sean Brotherson, (701) 231-6143, sean brotherson@ndsu.edu; or your county NDSU Extension Service office.


NDSU Agriculture Communication – April 16, 2013

Source:Kim Bushaw, (701) 231-7450, kim.bushaw@ndsu.edu
Source:Sean Brotherson, (701) 231-6143, sean.brotherson@ndsu.edu
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136, richard.mattern@ndsu.edu
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