by Tom Mitsoff
You're home with your children, watching television, when suddenly a
news bulletin flashes on the screen. It includes information and perhaps
images of violence, death and destruction. What do you say to your
children? Do you try to explain the political factors? Or do you just
sit quietly and let them come to their own conclusions?
"That would be a good time to ask your child, 'How do you feel?'"
according to Kathleen A. Brehony, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and
author of "After the Darkest Hour: How Suffering Begins the Journey to
Wisdom." "But there are individual differences in children, and I would
eschew a one-size-fits-all answer. It would be most important for
parents consider the age of their child and what he or she can handle."
Parents already faced this situation in the aftermath of the Sept. 11
Attack on America. And with war declared on terrorists and President
Bush's statements that the war could be lengthy, it is highly likely
that we all could be faced again and again with this scenario.
Brehony said parents should listen to what their children are asking
about what they have seen and heard. It's important to give children
encouragement and the opportunity to express their feelings, she said.
Twelve-year-old Katie Dahl of Gwinnett County, Ga., expressed her
feelings about the attack in an unexpected way. Before the attack
occurred, she was already pondering an entry in a school poetry contest.
The assignment was to write verse that completed the statement, "In my
hands I hold ..."
"Her answer to that, because of current events, was freedom," said her
mother, Rhondi Dahl. "She literally started writing it before school
one morning and it was flowing out as fast as she could write because it
was coming from the heart."
"I was surprised and shocked," said Katie, a seventh grader at
Pinckneyville Middle School in Norcross/Atlanta, Ga. "I never expected
something like this to happen to America. I wanted to somehow help out
for the cause and thought a poem would be a good way to express my
"At first, I was writing the poem just to have an entry to turn in for
the contest, but then I realized I was writing it for my sake and I felt
so much better once I put my feelings down on paper," Katie added.
According to Brehony, it's no surprise that expressing her feelings that
way helped Katie.
"Certainly it's good for people to have opportunities to express the way
they're feeling, and it's particularly good to give children that
opportunity," she said.
Parents should use their own judgment in deciding how to respond to each
child's reactions to such events as they occur in the future.
"There's a really fine line between scaring them and saying that we're
all right, there's nothing wrong," Brehony said. But she said parents
should keep in mind that children are very perceptive about their
parents' feelings, much more so than many parents believe.
"It's not the responsibility of the kids to assume the emotions of their
parents," she said. "If you're a parent who is out camping, you don't
want to be the one that the kids are trying to keep calm and protect
when you hear something."
Likewise, in times of crisis, parents should try not to put their
children in a position of having to comfort them, Brehony said.
But in the aftermath, give children the chance to ask questions, or
otherwise express their emotions about the events they have just seen.
If that expression is suppressed, Brehony said the result could be some
of the same symptoms that are seen in children who have experienced
other types of emotional trauma. Those symptoms include acting out in
school, dropping grades, withdrawing socially and nightmares.
Parents, take the time to listen to your children if and when they are
exposed to more terrifying images of war and violence. Be ready to
respond in an age-appropriate manner to their questions. And it wouldn't
hurt to have a notebook or a sketch pad at hand.
Like any traumatic situation, children (and adults) can handle war
images better if given a chance to express the feelings they elicit.
When your child starts talking about or asking questions about war,
recognize that it is a time to stop your busy schedule and take a few
quality minutes for interaction.
Hold In My Hand. . . Freedom!"
- America was special
- We had something great
- And even only days ago
- We faced a horrible fate
- It was that September morning
- That so many lost their lives
- And on that bright clear morning
- So many knelt and cried
- Who ever would've thought
- Who ever would've known
- That the lives that were lost
- Could've been their very own
- When those three planes were crashed
- In the unexpected attack
- Inside the intended targets
- So many were helplessly trapped
- We took our freedom for granted
- And we didn't understand
- America could fall off course
- And we could loose our stand
- But yet we never fell
- We still stand with pride
- Because we had hope, courage, and confidence
- All deep down inside
- America was great
- And even now, we still are
- And from even only days ago
- We have come so far
- We have learned a lesson
- The best you could ever learn
- To love each other and stand strong
- And glory you will earn
- I guess what I am trying to say
- Is that I am proud to be an American
- And it is freedom that I so gladly
- Hold in my hand
- So God bless America
- To this very day
- Because he will stand beside us
- And hold our lantern all the way
- by Katie Dahl