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Family Forum: Aftershocks of 9/11

How the tragedy continues to impact our children.

Several weeks after 9/11, my then 7-year-old daughter suddenly became nervous around buildings that were more than a few stories tall. She said she was afraid they would fall on her. A friend’s child had a hard time sleeping when his father left on an airplane for a business trip. Still another child talked constantly of war and worried it would take place in her town.

Those aftershocks were to be expected given the enormity of the tragedies, and they reverberated for a long time after. It didn’t help that over the past nine anniversaries—and this weekend will be no exception—children have seen the Twin Towers fall again and again as the media replays the scenes of that horrific morning.

Certainly those who, like my daughter, are no longer small, understand that this is a past event. But that doesn’t mean they don’t continue to find the images frightening and stressful. Children who are too young to have experienced the fear and grief will still have questions. They might also be confused about whether or not that event is occurring now—or that it will happen again.

How they react depends in large part on how you do. Colleen D. Multari, LMSW, director of early learning with The Early Years Institute in Plainview (www.eyi.org), says it’s important to include children in
conversations, activities and memorials relating to 9/11.

With the topic outlined in history lessons and those repeated images, children may know more than we think they do. Allow children to share their thoughts and feelings with you. It’s also important to assure them that they’re safe and cared for. While 9/11 is a significant moment in our lives, remember that as long as we allow our children to express their feelings about their fears, sadness and worries, we help them to cope better.

Unfortunately, it seems like there’s always something new in the news to frighten children, the recent tropical storm among them, so be aware of any changes in your child’s behavior that can indicate something is causing them anxiety. John Siefring, Ph.D., a clinical
psychologist in Northport, recommends looking for these reactions in your child:

  • Increased activity level, like hyperactivity.
  • Intensified dreams that they describe as seeming as real as a movie.
  • More fears, such as worrying about monsters under the bed and asking for lights to be left on.
  • Repetitious play like banging a truck into the wall again and again.
  • Physical complaints like head or stomach pains.
  • Refusing to talk about the events with you and walking away if he overhears a related conversation.
  • Irritability and lack of concentration.

These reactions mean your child is trying to work through his anxiety. But if the symptoms continue beyond three months, talk to your pediatrician or a family psychologist.

On 9/11, as with all frightening events, Multari says that as adults our reactions provide children with cues as to how they should respond.  President Obama has declared Sunday a day of service and remembrance. With your children, volunteer, support a charity, visit a memorial or spend time with family. It’s a way to makes sense of what frightens us.  

Liza N. Burby September 09, 2011 at 05:51 PM
This advice is even more important now that there are terrorist alerts. Please listen to your kids this weekend.


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