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Publication Date: Friday, October 12, 2001

Helping Children Feel Safe Helping Children Feel Safe (October 12, 2001)

By Diana Reynolds Roome

At a time when adults are feeling more than usually anxious, talking to children about their fears is a challenge. But it's important that parents do listen and talk, at an age appropriate level, says Betsy Nikolchev, director of Mountain View Parent Nursery School.

"There's no avoiding this, as the information is already out there," says Nikolchev, who held a parent meeting on the subject soon after the September 11 events. "Many people felt the TV was their lifeline then, but small children can't handle the repeated images of disaster."

Information comes uninvited in other ways, too. Older siblings talk, friends share stories they've heard, rumor is rife. Parents' jobs may cause concerns, such as a father who is a pilot or a mother in the Army Reserve. Some children have been to memorial services. Even the ubiquitous flags are a matter for discussion.

"Parents may not discuss these things, thinking they'll go away," says Nikolchev. "But in fact it doesn't, and if nobody's talking it's much scarier. You want to spare them, but in fact the correct information is so powerful and makes them feel much more in control."

Anxiety may emerge in nightmares or drawings - of plane crashes or dismembered body parts. Nikolchev suggests asking children what they have heard, and then adding or correcting their information, as appropriate. Trying to put it in terms that are familiar to them is a good idea. For example, one mother, when asked by her preschooler why those men would drive a plane into a building, replied that they did not have much love when they were growing up.

She added that there was lots of love in their family, which may have helped increase her daughter's sense of security.

Trying to understand where violence comes from is one step towards stopping the cycle, says Dr. Barbara Stefik, spiritual and dream counselor at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, Palo Alto. "It's the rigid, narrow view in politics, religion, even eating habits, that causes conflict. If you're raised in an environment where you see others as against you, hatred comes out. The minute you're willing to ask, 'What was that person's life like?' compassion replaces hatred."


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