News Release

November 19, 2004

Contact: Kristina Goodnough, 860-679-3700

Talking to Children About War and Terrorism

Tips for Helping Youngsters Cope with the New Normal

FARMINGTON, CONN. – As the United States participates in its first long term war since Viet Nam, images of war and violence are again coming into homes on television, in newspapers and magazines. Neighbors or relatives are leaving for a tour of duty in a war zone. The result is a whole generation of children and young people learning to cope with a “new normal.”

“It is important not to act like nothing is happening,” says Julian Ford, Ph.D., director of the Center for Trauma Response, Recovery and Preparedness at UConn Health Center. “Most kids already know from television or from friends or teachers at school about the war and terrorism, and they understand people have strong feelings about them. Parents and other adults can play an important role in helping kids to carry on with their lives and their healthy development, mainly by being aware, proactive, and listening.”

There are some strategies for talking calmly and reassuringly to children about the war and terrorism. Most important, take into account their age. “Age is an important benchmark for making choices and decisions about what you say to kids,” says Ford. Their age will help you understand the information they’re exposed to, whether it’s from television or from their friends or teachers at school. It’s easier to shield very young children from exposure to more detailed and graphic information by limiting television and keeping newspapers and magazines away from them.

Pre-schoolers or very young children mostly want to see that their parents or teachers know how to keep them safe. They worry they might be separated from their parents or caretakers. Simple things like having a picture of the family and their home address and parents’ telephone numbers in their back pack or lunch box can be reassuring.

Elementary school students are more likely to wonder why bad things happen and why people do bad things. Parents can calm these youngsters by reassuring them there are lots of people in the country and in the world working hard to make things safe. Show them that you have a plan to get together or stay together in case of an emergency or disaster. Establish a meeting place or a family member who can be the contact for everyone in case of an emergency. Make sure everyone has the contact telephone number and knows when to use it – and that there is a back-up contact in case the main contact person doesn’t get the message or is not able to respond.

Teenagers are likely to be thinking about their place in the world and about issues of fairness and right and wrong. Parents can help their teenagers by helping them distinguish facts from fears and sorting out media exaggerations. Listening to teenagers about their views on the war and acts of terrorism can provide an opportunity to discuss basic values – not just about terrorism and war but also about closer to home issues like dealing with peer pressure or feeling discouraged, having respect for a variety of other people and their beliefs, and ways to make a personal contribution in one’s own small way every day.

“It’s ok to show concern about safety and potential dangers,” says Ford. “The goal is to show children through your actions as well as your words that even if you’re concerned or upset, you still care about them and you know how to help them be safe.”

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