So much has been said and written about the tragedy of September 11 that there may be little left to say or write. Yet expressing our thoughts and feelings, or finding them reflected in what someone else has written, seems to be essential to the healing process. Thus, I hope that what I write here will strike a resonant chord in some of our readers, and also hope it will alleviate some of my own pain.
If there is anything to be thankful for in relation to the terrorism, it is that relatively few children were killed in the crashes and explosions. That is not to say that children were spared, as many of them lost parents and relatives and some were passengers on one or another of the planes. But fortunately, there was no child care center (as there was in Oklahoma City) or school right at ground zero. And, if the terrorists think that in destroying or damaging the twin symbols of America's financial center and its military headquarters they hit the heart of America, they were wrong. Our children hold that honor—they are the heart of America. If we can help children get past the initial shock and grief, perhaps they will be able to help us in our national campaign to prevent the recurrence of such terrible events in the future.
An excellent article was written on how to deal with the current situation by Dr. Kenneth Condrell for this web site. Some of the suggestions in it include:
Remain calm around your children.
Limit exposure to television with its repeated images of the same events (like the crashing of the planes into the towers and the collapse of the towers), which may suggest to children that the events are still occurring.
Remind children that most people are good and that such acts are done by a very small number of people.
Be assured that the recommendation to 'keep calm' does not have to mean that you should avoid any show of emotion and grief; if parents are grieving, children should witness this and get an explanation. At the same time, it is not going to help children adjust if parents panic or become overly angry and suspicious of others.
Now, several weeks after the tragedy, parents have been through these steps and are wondering, 'What do we do next?' That is, of course, a good question both in terms of our total national response and our behavior with our children.
We do not want to stop talking about and referring to the events of September 11, but perhaps we do want to move into an intermediate phase. Some of the following suggestions should be helpful:
Show the family's patriotism. Help your children understand their country has a history and a present level of opportunity and wealth that generates jealousy and hatred in some individuals and groups. Help them to understand gradually that not all nations and groups share our values or respect our achievements, and that these feelings are part of the terrorism we experienced. Fly the flag and make a ceremony of putting it up and taking it down. (It is gratifying to see so many flags flying instead of being used for the back side of baggy shorts.)
Call your child's attention to the way everyone has worked together to help in the crisis, even those who were not hurt and who perhaps didn't lose any family members.
Make up stories about the rescue dogs. The Wall Street Journal for 09-25-01 had a wonderful story about them, featuring one named 'Pork Chop.'
If you lost a loved one, keep a picture on view for several months and talk about the person. Answer all questions about death as candidly as you can within the context of your own spiritual beliefs.
Finally, we need to give thought to long-term strategies which can perhaps help our children become the kinds of adults who will do what they can to help create a world in which terrorism is unthinkable. Let me say up front and with honesty that nobody knows exactly what these strategies for the future should be. We can only try to distill from a cauldron containing a blend of knowledge and philosophy and belief systems (with a pinch of faith and intuition thrown in for flavor) some of the approaches that offer the most promise. Let's consider briefly what some of them might be:
Work to help your children develop a global view and understand that children in other countries have also experienced similar tragedies, and that we want to prevent a recurrence anywhere in the world. Help them develop compassion and concern for all children.
Help your children understand their country includes people who differ in race, gender, ability levels, family income and resources, and religious beliefs. However, even people who seem different from us on one or more of the above dimensions are far more similar to us than they are different from us. This is a difficult idea to get across and will take time, but we want to help our children learn that no person is defined by a single dimension (race, religion, etc.). We all have multiple identities that define who we really are.
Along with the development of a healthy 'self' concept, we need to encourage the formation of an equally robust 'other' concept. Our children—even our youngest—deserve recognition and respect for acquiring and showing their awareness of the needs of others, just as they receive recognition and respect for their own individual accomplishments. Children have natural impulses to show their concern for others (sharing, helping, sympathy, generosity), just as they have needs and inclinations to have their own wishes gratified. Such behaviors deserve reinforcement from parents, and from society at large, along with the reinforcements provided for personal achievements.
Of course, in order to make progress with any of these strategies, we have to exemplify our commitment to them by the way we live, to teach by example, to practice what we preach. And that is not easy, with or without an act of blatant terrorism to motivate us.
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.