Helping Children Cope With Tragedy and Fear

All of us are now facing our feelings of anxiety and fear as we prepare for the task of coping with this United States national tragedy. As we confront the challenge of helping our children, the following guidelines may help you give the kids you love and care about the emotional support they will need as they face the days ahead.


September 11, 2001

All of us are now facing our feelings of anxiety and fear as we prepare for the task of coping with this United States national tragedy. As we confront the challenge of helping our children, the following guidelines may help you give the kids you love and care about the emotional support they will need as they face the days ahead.

How to Help Kids

Talk to them about it. While younger children may not have a lot to say, older children will want to share their ideas and concerns. Listen to them without interrupting. Remember that all feelings are OK. They just are. Try not to judge. Just listen.

Reassure them that they are safe. You may need to do this often in the days to come.

Do not avoid the facts. Share basic information, as you know it. Be open and honest about what has occurred. Provide simple, accurate information. While you won’t have all the answers, your openness, love and support will make a tremendous difference in how children will cope with these events. Your caring actions will foster their resilience.

Reassure children that most people in the world can be trusted and that a small minority is involved in these acts. Reinforce that victims did not deserve to be hurt and that these events are rare and unusual.

Stick to your normal routine as much as possible. A predictable schedule brings comfort and security to kids.

Monitor their television viewing. Try to use a balanced view of what you see on the news and be aware of sensationalism. Discuss the situation as a family for as long as needed. If children wish to change the channel or the subject, take their lead. Try not to let your own need for the latest news override their routine television viewing.

Don’t overlook the positive in the wake of these horrific events. Reassure children that many injured people will get better. Look for news items about heroes and bravery and share them with children. Let your child see how people rally to help each other.

Donate blood if you are physically able. Show your support for the injured and call 1-800-GIVE-LIFE for details. Children can help in their own ways as well by making a small donation to a relief effort or in other ways that you will become aware of in the days ahead.

Help children feel protected. They may become concerned about their personal safety. Again, reassure them that these events are very rare and unlikely to happen where they are. Reassure them that you will always do everything you can to keep them safe and that someone will always take care of them.

Try and keep it together. Children can sense adult’s feelings including stress, anxiety and worry. It is OK to share your feelings of fear but reassure as often as needed that these events are very rare.

Give them a sense of control and optimism for the future. Offer choices without overwhelming them. Discuss future plans for the days, weeks and months ahead. Ask them what they want to be when they grow up. Help them feel needed, wanted and valuable.

Make family plans. Empower children with a plan of action when unexpected things happen. Have children carry important names and phone numbers in their wallet or backpack.

Be aware of extreme reactions. If your child’s reactions or distress begins to interfere with normal daily activities, contact a mental health professional to determine if intervention is needed.

Facilitate their creative expression. Provide art materials and opportunity to play. These experiences can relieve tension and give children their own “voice.”

Spend some extra time with them. More time to talk, to listen, to play. Get off the fast track and kick back a little more. Your time with them is precious.

Teach about a better way. Discuss your feelings about violence as a way of settling differences. Encourage your school to offer conflict resolution training. Set a good example.

In a nutshell…

*Watch television together and help them make sense of what they are seeing.
*Continually reassure without giving false assurances.
*Encourage talking about feelings.
*Contact a mental health professional if a child’s signs of distress are so severe they interfere with daily functioning.

Most of all…

Trust your instincts. You are the expert on your child and on your relationship with your child. Your love and concern will lead you well.