For Parents: How To Respond To Terrorism

The tragedies that occurred in New York City and Washington, DC, are impossible to describe and comprehend. The loss of life and the number of injuries caused by these terrorist attacks are devastating and frightening for us all.

To help you, as parents, deal with the fear and anxiety that your children may be facing following these attacks, UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh's child development specialists have compiled some guidelines for you to consider when talking with your children about this crisis:

  • In times of crisis, spend extra time with your children.
  • Before telling your children what happened, first find out what they know. You can ask, “What do you think happened?” Then answer their questions on an age-appropriate level. Answers should be brief, simple and should address what your child has asked.
  • Consider using the following phrases to elicit a child’s feelings: “It’s scary hearing about a plane crash and people getting hurt. You must feel frightened...” “It sounds like you have some strong feelings. Tell me about it...”
  • Allow your children to respond to you, and give them your full attention.
  • If your children are young, sit with them and encourage them to draw pictures of what’s going on or how they’re feeling. Then, talk about what they’ve drawn to get them talking about their emotions.
  • Hearing and viewing repeated news reports about terrorism and violence is frightening to children. Limit your children’s access to news reports covering violence.
  • If children hear about violence in the news or see a news report, allow them to talk about how it makes them feel. Acknowledge their feelings, which may range from fear to sadness or confusion. Reassure them that you will help keep them safe and tell them that when they are at school their teachers will help keep them safe. Remind them that the police, fire departments and other government officials also are working to protect them and others.
  • The emotional support of parents helps children work through tough issues. Reassure them that you love them.
  • Remain calm when talking with your children. Children tend to reflect their parent’s emotions.
  • Children’s anxiety may not go away overnight. Provide ongoing emotional support. If children experience extreme anxiety after a few weeks or are afraid to go to school,consider getting professional counseling. Some signs of extreme anxiety include recurring nightmares, acting withdrawn or not showing emotions, sudden aggression or a sudden disinterest in people or activities.

For more information about helping children cope with terrorism, including tips for teachers and ways children and teens can help in the aftermath, click here

For information about how to help children cope with the death of a loved one, click here. For additional help with parenting and dealing with violence, call Children’s Community Education Department at 412-692-7105 between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.