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Talking with Children About Disasters and Violence

9/13/2001:   In the aftermath of the September 11 highjackings, loss of life, and destruction seen and heard over and over around the nation and the world, persons who are concerned with the welfare of children, in particular, may be searching for ways to help children and youth cope with the magnitude of such tragedy.

League leadership noted in a message to all staff, "What we gathered from Internet sites or heard on radio broadcasts, and later saw on television left us with feelings of confusion, horror, helplessness, fear, anger, and a profound sense of sadness and loss. This tragedy will affect each of us in a different manner, but none of us should have to go through this alone. As is true in so many aspects of our lives, our strength lies in our connections to others. Together--with family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers--we can work through this disaster and emerge as a stronger society. We are already seeing signs of that stronger sense of "us" in how we are reaching out to take care of each other, both within the League family and elsewhere."

Numerous Internet resources are available to assist families, teachers, friends, and youth workers to helping children with their reactions to the traumatic events they have now heard and seen repeatedly on television. Indeed, the news organizations themselves are providing information on their websites to help children deal with the facts and images of disaster.

Helping Children After a Disaster, http://www.aacap.org/publications/factsfam/disaster.htm, a fact sheet by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, notes that a child’s reaction to a catastrophe depends on the parents’ responses, how much the child has seen, and the age of the child. In the Facts for Families series, Number 36 notes changes in a child’s behavior that may indicate more serious reactions to violence and refers to other topics in the series as well as recommended readings. The 81 Fact Sheets are available in English, Spanish, German, and French.

The Parent Encouragement Program website offers suggestions for helping children cope with this specific tragedy at http://www.parentencouragement.org/pepmsg.html. Recommendations include being available, monitoring the news coverage children watch, communicating to interpret children’s observations, reassuring children, continuing routine schedules, focusing on what can be done for others.

Although the focus of many activities and priorities of both individuals and government may have changed in a single day, CWLA colleagues are responding to this awful series of events with a revulsion that is being balanced by a consistent level of compassion. It is now even more important for us to support each other and to stay focused on our mission of making this a better world for children. That challenge may have become more difficult, but our resolve has grown stronger.

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