Age appropriate responses for parents and others
By Judy Myers-Walls
Child Development Specialist
While children may not be directly affected by the tragic events surrounding
the terrorist attack on America, they will have questions and concerns about
what it means for their world.
While news reports were not intended to alarm children, it is impossible to
protect or shield children from knowledge of an event of this size. They
have heard or seen media reports and adults discussing the issue, and they
can tell that the adults around them are concerned and upset. School
evacuations and lockdowns will add to their level of concern and it is
critical that the adults in their lives - parents, teachers, and guardians -
help children deal with and process this event.
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,
however. Holding and hugging young children can be reassuring to both the
adults and the children.
Elementary school children. Some school-age children will want to know
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 media reports and the entertainment
shows they're used to watching. Help school-age children understand where
the attacks occurred and where those cities are in relation to your
location. They will benefit from expressing their ideas in various forms,
such as art, letters, and music and with puppets. They also would benefit
from taking some kind of action, such as writing letters, preparing a
display for the community, or collecting items to help survivors.
Adolescents. Adolescents 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 that adults do. Because adolescents tend to look at the
world in a black-and-white fashion, they may want to know who the bad guys
are and who the good guys are. It would be helpful to guide them toward
separating the evil of the event from the value of people. Adolescents could
easily 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, a bomb,
or an airplane - 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, such as getting in a car and
driving to a demonstration. Older adults will need to help them keep this in
perspective and guide them to positive outlets such as giving blood,
collecting money for victims, or attending a vigil or memorial service. They
may also want to learn more about geopolitics and world history.
September 2001 from the Purdue Extension website, reprinted with permission.
For more information go to http://www.ces.purdue.edu/terrorism/children/index.html