to Children about Terrorism: By the Numbers Age appropriate responses for parents and others
By Judy Myers-Walls
Child Development Specialist
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.
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
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
Send mail to [email protected]
Last modified: December 13, 2001