See also: Teaching Kids About the War
When the Headlines are Full of Fear:
Helping Kids Cope With News of War
By Kelley Shirazi
Every generation has had its share of scary news and frightening headlines. My mother still recalls air raid drills and having to practice ducking under her desk at school. Shortly thereafter, we had headlines from the war in Vietnam. My generation dealt with the Cold War, with its terrifying prospect of nuclear weapons.
Today is certainly no different. We’ve all watched our world change overnight with the horrific events of September 11, the ongoing war in Iraq and continuing terrorist threats.
The world is a very big place to small children. It’s our job as parents to help guide them without totally shielding them from reality yet while respecting their individual levels of understanding. The big question is how? How do we know what to tell them, when to tell them and how much to tell them?
Can you avoid it?
When you first begin trying to decide what to tell your children, advises Lorna Knox, author of the book 12 Things Parents Can Do to Raise Joyful Children When the Headlines are Full of Fear (buy on Amazon.com or Powells.com), you should ask yourself, “Is this information unavoidable?”
We are constantly bombarded by unwanted information: magazines in the checkout line, advertisements, commercials. Knox cites a billboard campaign about child abuse displaying a red hot burner with the words “Stoves should only be used for cooking dinner; prevent child abuse.” Much to her dismay, Knox reports, her young son asked about the billboard, and she was placed in the uncomfortable position of having to explain child abuse to a child. In this unavoidable situation, she explained the matter as gently as possible and reassured her son that he was safe and loved.
Is it necessary?
The second question Knox advises asking is “Is this information necessary?” Through advances in neuroscience, we now know that the human brain experiences physiological changes from each experience. Young children’s minds are especially malleable, and even if they don’t show an immediate outward response, hearing frightening information or viewing scary images shapes their neural pathways forever.
While you may want to be as truthful and open as you can to prepare your child for the world, is it really necessary to discuss, for instance, that Mommy and Daddy are fighting? Is it paramount to a child’s survival to see images of explosions and injuries from Baghdad on TV? Probably not.
Will it help my child grow?
If you still find yourself wondering what to discuss with your child, Knox suggests another question: “Does this information offer an opportunity for growth or deeper understanding in any way?” Another way of putting it is to ask yourself if this knowledge may help build your child’s “emotional muscle.”
Some situations offer children the opportunity to learn skills to help them cope with unexpected or scary events. We’ve all heard news at some time or another about a young child’s being mauled by a dog. This might be an opportunity for you to teach your child how to respect an animal’s space and how to trust their instincts when they feel threatened by an animal. You can also reassure your children that not all animals are aggressive or dangerous -- but if your child feels threatened, he’ll know what to do.
Finally, when sharing information with your child, keep in mind her individual developmental stages. Have there been signs that she is ready for this information? Has she asked questions or does she show an understanding of the basic concepts related to the subject? You may need to tailor your responses to fit the ages and learning capacities of your child. What you tell your 15-year-old will be very different from the explanation you’ll give your five-year-old.
Things to do today
So what can you do today to help shield your children from information they don’t need to have? Knox provides a list of things to help you protect the innocence and vulnerability of your children:
• Look at the environment from your child’s view; be aware of all sources of negative, confusing or frightening information.
• Turn off the radio in your car when children are present.
• Control all sources of information and possible scary news in your own home.
• Keep company with people who are good examples for your children.
• Be with your children as much as possible.
• Pray (or meditate) with your children.
• Answer your children’s questions about scary news honestly, giving facts, ideas for positive action and reassurances of safety.
• Notice beauty and goodness and experience the joy of today with your children.
• Do something with love for another person.
• Give your children quiet time.
• Remind yourself and your children that we all are spiritual beings.
• Listen to your inner guidance.
© Kelley Shirazi
Kelley Shirazi’s interest in natural health and nutrition started in college, when she studied herbology and holistic health along with her women’s studies major. After graduation, she created Oceana Botanical Herbal Products, a line of petrochemical- and alcohol-free personal care and baby care products. A passionate advocate of organic, hormone-free foods, Kelley is currently studying toward her master’s of science degree in holistic nutrition. She lives in Oregon with her husband and daughter.