Ways to cope and to offer support to children
after an act of terrorism.
- When a terrorist act occurs
- Finding support
- Talking with your child about a terrorist
- Common reactions children may have
- Ways to support your child through a trauma
- Staying strong as a parent
The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks at
the World Trade Center, in Washington, D.C.,
and across the country are affecting people
worldwide. An act of terrorism makes all of
us fear for our safety and the safety of our
children. It can shake our feelings of security
and leave us feeling vulnerable. Here are some
ways to find support and to help your child
and the people you love in the hours and days
When a terrorist act occurs
An act of terrorism can be painfully difficult
to understand. Authorities may have no clear
answers for days or weeks afterward about how
or why the terrorist act occurred or how many
people were injured or lost their lives. It's
normal to feel overwhelmed by the event. You
may feel afraid, unsafe, or at a loss for what
to do. You may have trouble concentrating, and
feel so consumed by the tragedy that you have
trouble focusing on little else. You may feel
angry that the event occurred and that "authorities"
did nothing to protect you. You may feel helpless.
All of these feelings are normal reactions.
You may also feel:
- sadness and crying
You may have difficulty making decisions or
solving everyday problems, and you may feel
generally confused. You may even have difficulty
sleeping or experience nightmares. These feelings
will eventually ease, but it's possible that
they may continue for days or weeks. Try to
talk about your fears with loved ones or co-workers,
and continue to maintain as normal a schedule
as possible at work and home.
The first and most important step to take after
a traumatic event is to seek support from others.
- Spend extra time with people you love and
trust. Talk about the event and process what
- Use company resources to help you through
this difficult time. Resources are available
to you through your employee assistance program
(EAP) or employee resource program. If you
do not remember how to contact one of these
programs, ask your supervisor or human resources
(HR) representative to provide you with the
- Avoid using alcohol, prescription, or non-prescription
drugs to handle your emotions.
- Try not to compare yourself with others.
Everyone is different and reacts differently
to traumatic events.
- Give yourself and your family time to react.
It's important to maintain as normal a schedule
as possible, but at first you will need time
to absorb information and come to terms with
this frightening and tragic event.
Talking with your child about a terrorist
Children react to trauma in many of the same
ways that adults do. The world may suddenly
seem dangerous and unsafe. Your child may feel
overwhelmed by intense emotions and not understand
how to cope with these feelings. Children may
also have difficulty understanding what a terrorist
is or why a stranger would want to hurt people.
Here is how you can help:
- Help your child talk about the act of terrorism.
Let your child know that it's normal to feel
worried or upset. Try to listen carefully
and understand what your child is saying.
Help younger children use words like "angry"
and "sad" to express their feelings.
- Reassure your child that events like these
are extremely rare. You might say, "This
is a really sad time for everyone in our country.
Fortunately, events like this are very rare."
Explain to your child that terrorism is a
political act and not one that's aimed at
individuals. Reassure your child that your
family is safe.
- Stress that you are there to take care
of your child. Remember to say, "I love
you, I'm here to take care of you."
- When you talk about the event, be honest
and share clear, accurate information. Don't
diminish the nature of the tragedy or dismiss
your child's worries. If your child has any
misconceptions, correct false fears and misinformation.
If your child knows upsetting details that
are true, don't deny them. Instead, listen
closely and talk with your child about his
- If your child is old enough to watch the
TV coverage, watch the news together. The
news reports may be filled with terrifying
images and your presence will provide a sense
of security. You may want to limit the amount
of TV news your child sees. Too much repeated
coverage could just heighten your child's
- Try to be patient if your child asks the
same questions again and again. Let your child
talk as often as she needs to about the act
of terrorism. Talking about the event with
you is a way for your child to gain control
of feelings that follow a trauma.
- Talk with your child about your own feelings.
Admit that you are saddened by what has happened,
and show that you care. But don't burden your
child with your fears and worries. Your child
will look to you as a model for coping with
- Encourage your child to talk with friends
and other important people in his life about
Common reactions children may have
The way your child reacts to a traumatic event
may depend on her age. Younger children may
refuse to attend school while older children
may withdraw or argue more with parents.
Here are some common reactions children may
have after traumatic events and ways to help
your child deal with them:
- Regression. Younger children may wet the
bed or want a bottle; older children may fear
being alone. Be patient and offer your child
extra comfort at this time.
- Fear. Your child may feel afraid that the
event is going to happen again. Reassure your
child that adults are working to keep everyone
safe. Some children may also express their
anxiety by reverting to past fears such as
fear of the dark, strangers, or animals.
- Sleep disorders. Some children have difficulty
falling asleep, others wake frequently or
have troubling dreams. If your child is younger,
he or she may find comfort from a stuffed
animal, soft blanket, or flashlight to take
to bed. Try spending extra time together in
the evening, doing quiet activities or reading.
- Be patient. It may take a while before your
child can sleep through the night again.
- Feeling helpless.
- Children may withdraw or even act out aggressively
by fighting with parents or siblings as a
way of expressing feelings of helplessness
- Children may also be very quiet or very
- Physical ailments. Children may experience
stomachaches, headaches, or other physical
Ways to support your child through
- Remember that this may be the first time
your child is experiencing a traumatic event.
Your child may have many feelings -- anger,
sorrow, fear, confusion, and sometimes guilt
if others have died. Be there to console your
child. Assure your child that all of these
feelings are normal.
- Your child may feel afraid and upset following
the trauma and may no longer feel "normal."
She may show her fears by having nightmares,
crying, being clingy, or being overly fearful.
These behaviors are normal.
- Try to be loving and understanding. Your
child needs extra love and support from you
during this difficult period. Tell your child
to come to you if he or she is having trouble
sleeping, coping, or needs to talk.
- Don't assume that just because your child
hasn't said something about the event that
she is OK and isn't affected by it. Sometimes,
children are confused by a traumatic event,
want to avoid talking about it, or are afraid
to show their vulnerability. You may need
to take the first step and bring up the subject
when you and your child have time together.
- Help your child find comforting routines
as a way to cope. Don't keep your child home
from school, which can be a place of tremendous
support for children. Encourage your child
to listen to favorite music, do artwork, play
basketball, or participate in other normal
activities. This is a time to keep routines
simple at home.
- Encourage your child to become involved
as a way to overcome feelings of helplessness.
Being active in a campaign to help victims
of the disaster or writing letters to people
who have helped or to victims can bring a
sense of hope and control to everyone in the
- Allow your child to express his or her
fears. Younger children may be best able to
do this through drawing. Some children may
talk to family pets or dolls.
- Temporarily lower expectations of school
and home performance. Your child's attention
and emotional energy may be focused elsewhere
for a few days.
- Encourage your child to talk with other
adults about the event. This might be a teacher,
school counselor, member of the clergy, or
someone else from the community that your
child feels close to and trusts.
- Most important of all, try to be there
for your child. Give extra attention and support.
Be affectionate. Give hugs. Make efforts to
spend time together, have meals together,
and be together as a family.
Staying strong as a parent
Keep in mind that your own behavior is a powerful
example for your child. How your child copes
with a traumatic event will depend to some measure
on how you cope. Your child is looking to all
the adults around him -- parents, teachers,
relatives, clergy, and others -- to find positive
ways to deal with the event. It's important
for you to stay strong so you can support your
- Get enough sleep, eat well-balanced meals,
and try to stick to regular routines.
- Seek support from others. Because you are
also responding to trauma, it is very important
to talk to other parents, friends, counselors,
- Share your anxieties and frustrations with
them. And don't be afraid to ask for help.
- Give yourself time to reflect on what happened.