NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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Children & Terrorism

Children & Terrorism

            When we adults are glued to media coverage of events such as the bombings in Boston or the plant explosion in Texas, our children are watching and listening.  They may hear parents discussing family or friends they know who live in those areas.  They want to know what this means for them, those they love and our nation, so they often express concern and anxiety by asking lots and lots of questions.

            Sean Brotherson, North Dakota State University Extension Service family science specialist, recently shared some insights as to how to answer those questions.  "Parents and other adults play a significant role in helping children who are dealing with stress," says Dr. Brotherson.  "Parents and adults provide an example for children, act as a resource in helping children cope, and give guidance and support in managing emotions. Parents tend to set the atmosphere that will help children cope or remain overly stressed."

            There are a variety of strategies that parents or other adults can use in helping children deal with stress.  Specific strategies may include:

* Hold the child and provide physical comfort. Children naturally may seek the comfort and security that comes from being held. Give children extra hugs, smiles and hand-holding. Set aside time to sit next to a child, put your arm around him or her or hold him or her on your lap and talk with the child about his or her feelings.

* Give your child verbal reassurance. It is important for children to hear messages of support. Remember to tell them often that you love them, that everything will work out and that you are taking care of them.

* Be honest with the child about your feelings. It helps children to know that parents may share some of their feelings. Answer your child's questions in a simple, straightforward way. Share your own thoughts and feelings as appropriate.

* Ask your child to share his or her thoughts and feelings. Listen. Parents can help children by encouraging their expression of feelings and listening to them carefully. Ask them to tell you if they feel scared, angry or frustrated. Help them to realize such feelings are normal and that they can be worked out. Ask them for their ideas on how they might help with family needs.

* Children often express emotion and deal with stressful situations through play or expressive behavior. Ask the child to tell you a story about the attack or help him or her write about his or her feelings about it. Read it back to them and discuss it. You also may have children draw pictures about the experience and then ask the child about the picture and what it means.

* Establish and maintain consistent routines that provide security and familiarity to children. As much as possible, adults should create and maintain some routines that children can rely on for security. This might include a particular routine at lunch, nap time, dinner or bedtime. It might involve reading stories each night, rough-and-tumble play or playing family games. Use these times to build security and reassure children.

* Help children express and cope with grief or feelings of loss. It is natural for children to feel a sense of loss. Allow the child to express his or her sadness or frustrations and acknowledge the reality of these feelings.

* Develop a plan with children for action to take in case of future problems or stress. Children feel empowered if they know beforehand what might be done to respond to a safety concern. This may include a home evacuation drill, knowledge of contact information for safety experts or simply greater understanding of potential concerns. Discuss such issues with children and involve them in making plans that will aid in responding to future challenges.

* Involve children in service activities. It can be helpful to give children something to do in responding to stress. Children benefit from feeling that they are making a contribution. Find an appropriate activity that children or youth can do to help contribute to or assist with responding to the events that took place. Perhaps they can perform a service activity for others in need or send a message of support.

* Show an example of self-control and positive response to stress. Children learn how to respond to stress by watching adults. Adults ought to set an example of self-control, maturity and positive resolution in dealing with challenges. This will comfort children and create a secure atmosphere for them.

            "As adults care for children and help them deal with stress and anxiety, they also will find themselves more able to deal constructively with the consequences of this event," Brotherson says.

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