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Teaching your child

Avoid flooding children with 9/11 reruns

Avoid flooding children with 9/11 reruns

September 06, 2002|by LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

I'll never forget the day my son lost his first tooth.

It had been loose for weeks. We thought it would be gone before school started, but when Labor Day came and went, we started to wonder if it would ever break free.

Meals became interesting. He was half gingerly biting things (to avoid pain), and half chomping away (because, like any other 6-year-old, he wanted this rite of passage). Each time I set a plate before him, I wondered if this meal would do the trick.

But it was an early morning swing ride that caused the tooth to come out.

He came inside, tooth in hand, blood streaming down his chin and then he curled up in a ball, crying on the couch. I consoled him the best I could, with hugs and a cool wash cloth pressed to his gums.

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He was visibly distracted during lessons in our home school that morning, and when the phone rang, I thought, great, another disruption.

When I heard my husband's voice on the answering machine, however, I ran to the phone.

"Do you have the TV on?" he asked.

"No, we're doing school," I replied, wondering why he would ask such a ridiculous question.

"Tristan lost his tooth!" I said. "He's having a lot of discomfort."

I heard the impatience in my husband's voice.

"Lisa, turn on the TV. A plane just hit the World Trade Center. This is huge."

Some of my friends said they couldn't turn the TV off that day. I turned it on for a few minutes, then turned it off. I didn't want to turn it back on.

Part of me just wanted to tend to my little boy's sore mouth. I also wanted quiet so I could think about and pray for the souls who were dying.

I was concerned that if my children watched the events as they unfolded, the images would stick with them forever. I didn't think that was something a toddler and a first-grader could handle.

It was hard to avoid the images in the days that followed, though. My son wanted to know how many times the planes hit the Trade Center towers.

When I told him they each hit once, he wanted to know why it was on TV again and again. At that point, I stopped watching the news altogether. I could tell he was confused and frightened.

We're coming up on the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks. Our children are bound to see those disturbing images again. What should we do to prepare them?

"Parents should try to avoid letting kids watch TV," says Julie Dunsmore, assistant professor of psychology at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y.

Since the terrorist attacks were a year ago, it might seem like ancient history to some children. Others may feel the same anxiety they felt last year and may long to be close to their parents.

Seek help for your child if the clinging doesn't cease after a couple of days or if the child becomes overly aggressive. It will help to stick to the same routine, keeping meals and bedtime consistent, says Duns-more, who has studied how kids reacted to Sept. 11.

"What we found is that kids who had more frequent exposure to the media had fewer ideas of how they could deal with the attacks," Dunsmore says.

Kids were most helped by parents who had open attitudes, who talked about feeling anger, fear and other emotions, who explained how to work through those feelings.

Parents may notice a child acting out the plane crashes during play time. This may provide an opportunity to talk. Ask if he's thinking about what happened last year and if there's anything he wants to discuss.

Many families found comfort in donating to the relief fund, buying socks for the rescue workers, donating blood or turning to religion and using prayer as a way of dealing with their emotions, Dunsmore says.

"We're probably not going to see the massive fund-raising or blood drives" of last year, but families can think of ways to help, Dunsmore says.

What benefited children the most last year was focusing on how they can make the world a better place, Dunsmore's study revealed.

We can start in our own back yards.

Are there elderly residents who will need their leaves raked this fall? What community organizations could use our help? Do we need to spend more time together as families, just enjoying each other?

How can you help your child make an impact on his world?

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

lisap@herald-mail.com.

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