Archive for Wednesday, September 26, 2001

Baldwin youth deal with tragedy

September 26, 2001

Sara Hemphill is not quite sure what to feel about the recent terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.

"How could somebody do this?" she said. "I'm a little scared and a little angry."

Hemphill, 12, said she's uncertain of the future because of the Sept. 11 attacks.

"I'm not sure what will happen," she said. "That makes it a little frightening."

Hemphill is not the only child with questions, concerns or observations about the recent events, Baldwin Elementary School social worker Celia Boyne-Schuh said.

"Sometimes kids just need to talk about it," she said.

Pat Roach Smith, community development director at the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, said it's not always easy to know how to deal with these issues.

"This is new territory for all of us," she said. "We are learning as we go."

But she said there will be questions that need to be answered. The types of questions and concerns children may have will depend on the age of the child.

"Elementary-age children may be anxious and have concerns about safety," Smith said. "They might have worries about the reoccurrence of violence."

She said these concerns can cause increased levels of distress and behavior changes in children.

Middle school and high school-aged children will also have concerns about safety, Smith said.

"They'll want to know if the school is safe," she said. "Any kind of loss brings up previous losses, like Columbine."

Teenagers will often discuss more of the gruesome details of the attacks, including the number of injuries and deaths, she said.

"Things like this also have a negative impact on issues of trust," Smith said. "There are already issues of trust at this age, but this can make it worse."

Parents can help their children with their concerns by talking with them, Boyne-Schuh said.

"You really have to look at the age of the child to help decide how much to tell them," she said. "You don't want to give too much information because often they are looking for simple answers, but you don't want to hide information either. Be honest, but simple."

She said if children don't get the answers at home, they will find answers from other sources.

"That often leads to misinformation," she said.

Talking about the attacks and addressing the children's feelings and questions at school can also help, Smith said.

"Find out what they know and what they are worried about," she said.

BES principal Tom Mundinger said teachers and faculty at the school had been talking to students about the events

"On that Tuesday, we kept the information from the students until the end of the day," he said. "We tried to shield the kids as much as possible and keep the day as normal as possible."

But the next day, Mundinger said teachers talked to their classes individually about the previous day's events.

"We had to be careful not to over emphasize it," he said.

But Boyne-Schuh said the time the teachers did spend with their classes was important.

"The interaction I observed between the kids and the teachers that day was very nurturing and supportive," she said. "The kids realized that this was a serious event."

She said the seriousness of it was why parents needed to communicate with their children, even if parents still have questions about what happened.

"Kids are going to take cues from you by watching your body language and reactions," Boyne-Schuh said. "You must be aware of your own reactions because it's times like these kids are really watching those."

Limiting the amount of TV news programs and Internet viewing children see will also help, Smith said.

"Put limits on them," she said. "Suggest other activities like taking a walk, calling a friend. And continue to maintain a regular schedule. Continue after-school activities. Do whatever is usual for you family."

Boyne-Schuh said what children want most is to know they will be fine.

"They just need to know they are safe and secure," she said.

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