For Parents: Helping Your Child Deal With Terrorist Tragedy

The media is filled with horrifying images of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. No one was prepared to deal with such an immense and unthinkable tragedy. Hearing about one death is awful enough, but hearing that thousands of innocent people have been hurt or killed can be unbearable.

It’s normal to feel numb, like it’s not real. And to feel angry that people would commit such terrible acts of violence. It’s normal to feel sad about all of the pain and destruction that the attacks have caused. And to feel scared about what the future holds.

These feelings may last for quite a while. For many of us, the images we saw may be part of our daily lives for a long time.

There are a few things that can help you to cope:

  • Share your feelings. It’s normal to have a lot of different emotions right now. Anger, sadness, fear, and numbness are some of the reactions you might have. Don’t be embarrassed or afraid to express how you feel. Just talking and sharing your feelings with your parents, friends, teachers, and others can help them and help you.
  • Give yourself a fear reality check. After seeing so much death and destruction, you may be worried about your safety and your family’s safety. Television brings those images right into your home, and makes them seem very close even if you don’t live near where it happened. In reality, though, the chances that a terrorist act will injure you are extremely small.
  • Take care of yourself. Eating right, getting enough sleep and exercise, and sticking to your daily routine as much as possible can help you to reduce your stress and anxiety levels during this difficult time.
  • Limit the time you spend watching the news. It’s good to be informed about what’s happening, but spending hours glued to the television can make you feel more anxious and sad. This will be especially important over the next few weeks as the media gives so much coverage to the terrorist attacks.
  • Be patient and sensitive. You’ll probably hear lots of rumors and conflicting information from the media, at school, and from family members, friends, and neighbors right now. Give yourself time to digest and sort through this information. Keep in mind that some of the things you hear will turn out to be incorrect or incomplete. Be sensitive if you hear others making prejudiced or hateful remarks.
  • Find out what you can do to help. If you are 17 or older and meet certain other requirements, you may be able to donate blood. And there are other ways to help victims. Find out if your local Red Cross needs clothing and canned goods. Help your church, synagogue, mosque, or other place of worship to collect money and donated items, and organize similar activities at your school. Be active and encourage others to participate.
  • Join with others. Participate in candlelight vigils, religious ceremonies, or memorial services to share thoughts, prayers, and songs. Acts that may seem small—like just holding someone’s hand or giving a hug—can also provide comfort and strength.
  • Seek additional support. It’s normal to have strong reactions—such as sadness, anger, anxiety, depression, upset stomach, sleep problems, and difficulty concentrating—to tragic, traumatic events. But if it starts to interfere with your ability to function each day, it may be time to seek help. Ask a parent, teacher, religious leader, or guidance counselor how to get additional help.

Reviewed by: Neil Izenberg, MD 
Date reviewed: September 2001

Reprinted from with permission.
Copyright 2001. The Nemours Foundation.