The recent tragic acts of terrorism are unprecedented in the American
experience. Children, like many people, may be confused or frightened by the
news and will look to adults for information and guidance on how to react.
Parents and school personnel can help children cope first and foremost by
establishing a sense of safety and security. As the nation learns more about
what happened and why, adults can continue to help children work through their
emotions and perhaps even use the process as a learning experience.
1. Model calm and control. Children take their emotional cues from
the significant adults in their lives. Avoid appearing anxious or frightened.
2. Reassure children that they are safe and so are the other important
adults in their lives. Explain that these buildings were targeted for their
symbolism and that schools, neighborhoods, and regular office buildings are not
3. Remind them that trustworthy people are in charge. Explain that
the government emergency workers, police, firefighters, doctors, and the
military are helping people who are hurt and are working to ensure that no
further tragedies occur.
4. Let children know that it is okay to feel upset. Explain that all
feelings are okay when a tragedy like this occurs. Let children talk about
their feelings and help put them into perspective. Even anger is okay, but
children may need help and patience from adults to assist them in expressing
these feelings appropriately.
5. Observe childrenís emotional state. Depending on their age,
children may not express their concerns verbally. Changes in behavior, appetite,
and sleep patterns can also indicate a childís level of grief, anxiety or
discomfort. Children will express their emotions differently. There is no right
or wrong way to feel or express grief.
6. Look for children at greater risk. Children who have had a past
traumatic experience or personal loss, suffer from depression or other mental
illness, or with special needs may be at greater risk for severe reactions than
others. Be particularly observant for those who may be at risk of suicide.
Seek the help of mental health professional if you are at all concerned.
7. Tell children the truth. Donít try to pretend the event has not
occurred or that it is not serious. Children are smart. They will be more
worried if they think you are too afraid to tell them what is happening.
8. Stick to the facts. Donít embellish or speculate about what has
happened and what might happen. Donít dwell on the scale or scope of the
tragedy, particularly with young children.
9. Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate.
10. Monitor Your Own Stress Level. Donít ignore your own feelings of
anxiety, grief, and anger. Talking to friends, family members, religious
leaders, and mental health counselors can help. It is okay to let your children
know that you are sad, but that you believe things will get better. You will be
better able to support your children if you can express your own emotions in a
productive manner. Get appropriate sleep, nutrition, and exercise.
What Parents Can Do:
1. Focus on your children over the next week or so. Tell them you
love them and everything will be okay. Try to help them understand what has
happened, keeping in mind their developmental level.
2. Make time to talk with your children. Remember if you do not talk
to your children about this incident someone else will. Take some time and
determine what you wish to say.
3. Stay close to your children. Your physical presence will reassure
them and give you the opportunity to monitor their reaction. Many children will
want actual physical contact. Give plenty of hugs. Let them sit close to you,
and make sure to take extra time at bedtime to cuddle and to reassure them that
they are loved and safe.
4. Limit your childís television viewing of these events. If they
must watch, watch with them for a brief time; then turn the set off. Donít sit
mesmerized re-watching the same events over and over again.
5. Maintain a "normal" routine. To the extent possible stick to your
familyís normal routine for dinner, homework, chores, bedtime, etc., but
donít be inflexible. Children may have a hard time concentrating on
schoolwork or falling asleep at night.
6. Spend extra time reading or playing quiet games with your children
before bed. These activities are calming, foster a sense of closeness and
security, and reinforce a sense of normalcy. Spend more time tucking them in.
Let them sleep with a light on if they ask for it.
7. Safeguard your childrenís physical health. Stress can take a
physical toll on children as well as adults. Make sure your children get
appropriate sleep, exercise, and nutrition.
8. Consider praying or thinking hopeful thoughts for the victims and their
families. It may be a good time to take your children to your house of
worship, write a poem, or draw a picture to help your child express their
feelings and feel that they are somehow supporting the victims and their
9. Find out what resources your school has in place to help
children cope. Most schools are likely to be open and often are a good
place for children to regain a sense of normalcy. Being with their friends and
teachers can help. Schools should also have a plan for making counseling
available to children and adults who need it.
What Schools Can Do:
1. Assure children that they are safe and that schools are well
prepared to take care of all children at all times.
2. Maintain structure and stability within the schools. It would be
best, however, not to have tests or major projects within the next few days.
3. Have a plan for the first few days back at school. Include school
psychologists, counselors, and crisis team members in planning the schoolís
4. Provide teachers and parents with information about what to say and
do for children in school and at home.
5. Have teachers provide information directly to their students, not
during the public address announcements.
6. Have school psychologists and counselors available to talk to
student and staff who may need or want extra support.
7. Be aware of students who may have recently experienced a personal
tragedy or a have personal connection to victims or their families. Even
a child who has been to visit the Pentagon or the World Trade Center may feel a
personal loss. Provide these students extra support and leniency if
8. Know what community resources are available for children who may
need extra counseling. School psychologists can be very helpful in directing
families to the right community resources.
9. Allow time for age appropriate classroom discussion and activities.
Do not expect teachers to provide all of the answers. They should ask questions
and guide the discussion, but not dominate it. Other activities can include art
and writing projects, play acting, and physical games.
10. Be careful not to stereotype people or countries that might be home
to the terrorists. Children can easily generalize negative statements and
develop prejudice. Talk about tolerance and justice versus vengeance. Stop
any bullying or teasing of students immediately.
11. Refer children who exhibit extreme anxiety, fear or anger to mental
health counselors in the school. Inform their parents.
12. Provide an outlet for studentsí desire to help. Consider making
get well cards or sending letters to the families and survivors of the tragedy,
or writing thank you letters to doctors, nurses, and other health care
professionals as well as emergency rescue workers, firefighters and police.
13. Monitor or restrict viewing of this horrendous event as well as
For information on helping children and youth with this crisis:
at (301) 657-0270 or visit NASPís website at
www.nasponline.org. Materials on
related topics will be posted over the next few days.
About the NASP:
NASP represents 22,000 school psychologists and related professionals
throughout the United States and abroad. NASPís mission is to promote
educationally and psychologically healthy environments for all children and
youth by implementing research-based, effective programs that prevent problems,
enhance independence and promote optimal learning. This is accomplished through
state-of-the-art research and training, advocacy, ongoing program evaluation,
and caring professional service.
Copyright © 2001 is held by the NASP
Text extracted from
Originally posted: 2001-SEP-19
Latest update: 2001-SEP-19