Tragedy dangerous for children

Devastating and tragic events can be painful for mature adults to handle. Imagine the difficulty a 4- or 5-year-old can experience while trying to comprehend the scene of people jumping out of buildings. While children living in New York City and Washington, D.C., will have the hardest time processing the frightening events of Sept. 11, children across the country will also face emotional trauma resulting from the attacks. Fortunately, schools are staffed with nurses and counselors to help kids make it through the day away from home, but parents must take the responsibility of helping their children make sense of the situation and their feelings.

Schools can serve as a safe place away from home and as a place of therapeutic healing through activities like painting, drawing and music. For younger children, the solace at school can be a welcome break from the barrage of news in some homes. But in this case, more than others, parents should not rely on the television for a babysitter. Parents must make an active effort to monitor their children’s TV watching; the constant images of disaster can be overbearing for those too young to grasp the reality behind the pictures. As trying as the situation is for parents, they cannot let their children down by failing to take an active role in their emotional well-being.

Also, as Arab-Americans continue to be harassed by ignorant and shameless citizens, parents must also remember that their actions speak louder than words. Children learn many behaviors by example, and watching parents donate blood will leave a better impression than watching their parents storm a mosque. Christine Jax, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Children, Families and Learning, rightly notes that “adults should be role models of tolerance and care for all children, whatever their race, religion or country of origin.” Parents also must not let anger or hate influence their children and avoid stereotyping or scapegoating people. Parents should strive to speak factually with their children about the events; discussions prevent children from developing irrational fears or beliefs. Though a bit of innocence might be sacrificed in order for children to understand the events, they must not turn to hate to ease their fears.

Every child in the nation has heard about the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. They might not know what the Pentagon is or how world trade will continue without the buildings, but kids understand much more than parents often realize and cannot be shielded from the truth: Evil exists in the world. Parents must be honest with their children and teach them that intolerance and ignorance lead to the same evil that caused the tragedies.