The less directly affected the child and the younger the child, the more appropriate it will be to move back to the issues of normal everyday life. Most youngsters will follow the lead of the important adults around them. Finding a balance between getting back to life, gathering information about the most recent news and developments, and focusing on these tragic events will be easiest for those of us who are less directly affected by this tragedy.
This includes people who live far away from New York and Washington, or do not have friends, family or colleagues who have been hurt or are missing. Younger children are more prone to focus on the issues directly facing them and will likely move back to those concerns. Limiting television viewing of the events and redirection of children will help them to focus on their own concerns.
However, children who for any reason are more vulnerable to issues of safety and fear or aggression may find it more difficult to put these tragic events into perspective and may find it hard to move back to focusing on their own lives. Older children may be more likely continue to think about the implications of this tragedy. Adolescents may remain concerned about the meaning of evil, or why bad things happen to innocent people. If a child seems to remain preoccupied with these events and is unable to meet his/her responsibilities for school and home, the parent needs to explore with the child how this is affecting the child.
Consultation with a professional may be helpful. Children who are more directly affected, like those who live near these sites, are familiar with these buildings, have neighbors who are hurt or missing, or have parents who work in these areas, will need to spend more time focusing on these issues.
2. How much information and what kinds of information should I share with my child?
Vanessa K. Jensen, head, section of pediatric psychology, The Cleveland Clinic Foundation:
That depends largely on the child's age and developmental level. As a general rule, answer your child's questions simply, directly, with limited detail, allowing them to absorb things slowly and at their own pace. As they understand the information or need clarification, they will ask further questions. Too much information too soon is overwhelming and may lead to an even greater sense of confusion and distress.
As difficult as it is, we need to separate our own anxiety and our need to talk about the devastating things that have happened from what it is that our children need. They need to know that some very awful things have happened, that some very bad people did these things, and that we, as adults, are working hard to find out who did it, and to keep it from every happening again. The older the child, the more detail provided, but avoid dramatization.
Most importantly, they need to know that their parents are "OK" and that the adults in their lives will make sure they are "OK." You don't need to pretend and shouldn't lie, but choose how much to share at any time. If you are sad and your child sees that, it's ok to tell him or her that you are sad about the things that have happened.
You can also let your child know of things that you or your family are doing to help those in need (i.e., prayers, donating blood, volunteering to help others in general). Above all, you can remind your child that you love them and will be there for them.