Suggestions for Adults
Talking with Children About War
In addition to the children whose lives have been directly impacted by the
terrorist attacks and war, most children have seen terrifying images of destruction on
television and the Internet. They are reading newspapers and they have heard
stories on the radio that speak of grave losses of life. They will also take
emotional cues from the adults in their lives who have been watching these
As adults turn to address the needs of the children in their lives in the
aftermath of the tragic and traumatic events, the following are some points to keep in
- Adults need to consider the impact of their reactions upon their children.
By creating a calm and relaxed environment in their homes through their own
demeanor, they can help their children to feel safe. That may not be possible
for all families, particularly those that have been directly impacted. If they
have been visibly anxious or upset, adults need to take the time to explain to
the children in their lives what they are feeling and why.
- Taking the time to listen and talk to children is very important. Many
children will have seen images on television that will prompt questions. They
will continue to hear about these events in the coming days as well and will
be reminded by images through media and in their everyday lives, so it is
important to keep those lines of communication open.
- In talking to children, adults can and should try to reinforce that they
are doing everything in their power to make sure their children are safe, and
explain that the events that took place, or that are taking place, occurred in buildings that are symbols
to the outside world or that are part of our national defense system. Assure
them that adults are working to make sure homes and schools are safe.
- Helping children to separate fact from fiction is also important. Adults
should try to discuss known facts with children, and help avoid speculation or
- Incidents have occurred since the 9/11 tragedy where children of Middle Eastern
descent have been threatened or taunted. This is an excellent opportunity to
help children understand that most individuals who are from other countries
are fine and good people who live in and love the United States as much as
they do, and that one should make judgments on an individual basis.
- Adults can also talk with children about the senselessness of violence,
hate and terrorism. They can explain that our country is committed to
protecting the freedom, opportunity and safety of people throughout the world.
- Although you hear it suggested often, if you are home with a child, you
should take extra efforts to limit their television, radio and Internet
activity in order to avoid excessive exposure to imagery of the damage and
destruction. Consider activities that you can do with your child instead.
Confine your own viewing to times when children are less likely to be present.
- Adults need to make it a priority to watch the children in their lives, and
understand their behavior. Children may manifest some behavioral and emotional
changes, including misbehavior, sleeplessness, nightmares and general anxiety.
These are signs to parents that reassurance and care are needed.
- If a family has strong faith, this is a time to talk about that faith with
children and to help them relate what has taken place to those lessons and
beliefs. It is also a time to pray for all of those families who have been
touched by the destruction and loss of life.
- Children and adolescents may also be struggling to understand the
immorality of the terrorist attacks or war. This is an opportunity for adults to help
children understand the presence of good and evil in the world and discuss
children's concerns about a moral and safe future.
- Children will have a range of reactions and will display a variety of
emotions. Adults need to be tolerant of that behavior and need to explain to
children that it is okay to be upset or disturbed.
- If your child wants to be unusually close to you, like sleeping in your bed
or running all errands with you, it is okay to make changes to your normal
routine and contact, but at the very beginning you should create a clear
understanding that this is unusual and negotiate a quick return to your normal
- Adults need to consider how the events may have had some relevance to their
daily activities. For example, if you travel often by plane, work in a tall
building or in an area that is highly populated, you may find that your child does not want to be separated from you.
It is important to take the time to talk about and help your children to feel
secure about separations and understand your activities and routine.
- It may take some time for children to show signs of stress or anxiety, so
the adults in their lives need to stay especially attuned for changes in
behavior. Children within a single family may display very different reactions
from one another. Adolescents in particular may display reckless behavior in
the aftermath of the events.
- Finally, it may help to engage your children in activities where they can
offer constructive assistance to the victims of the violence. With young
children, you may want to send drawings and cards. If your child is a
teenager, he or she may want to donate blood or volunteer with a community
organization that is offering help to the victims of the terrorist attacks or
If you think you need professional assistance in meeting the needs of a child
in your life, there are resources available to you. There are excellent state
and county mental health organizations around the country. Schools, community
based organizations and religious institutions that are located in your
community can help with guidance and counseling or direct you to the right
For additional information, please visit the Posttraumatic
This information has been provided with the kind permission of the US
Department of Education (www.ed.gov).
Last Editorial Review: 4/2/2003