Question: A 5-year-old cannot understand why the "bad" guys bombed the World Trade Towers. How should a parent respond? What should they tell him/her?
Answer: Five-year-olds deal with moral dilemmas in black-and-white terms. They see the world as good or bad, right or wrong, and they're very self-centered, so when they think about doing bad things, they're worried themselves they may lose their parents' love or approval.
They're also beginning to embark on a world of independence -- going out, going to school -- and they're really seeing more and more that the world is potentially dangerous. They also see this from the news. Many times at night they're afraid of burglars or robbers. When we have a major crisis like the World Trade Center tragedy, parents need to respond to their children.
Here are some tips: First of all, I would try to reassure the child that they're going to be safe -- that we're going to do everything possible to keep them safe.
Secondly, that the world is filled with more good people than bad people -- which is a way that the black-and-white thinking goes. A very important principle here is that if you're concerned or worried as a parent, the child's going to pick up on this, so one needs to acknowledge, "Yes, I'm worried too, but we're all going to stick together and take care of each other." And in that regard, there's a really important principle for parents. Just when you're on an airplane, just as the flight attendant says, "If the pressure drops, you put the oxygen mask on yourself first and then you can help the child next to you," the same thing is true in these kind of crises.
Parents need to take care of themselves first, and this means getting help and support from family and from community, because research shows that those are the most important areas to help parents out. Once they feel safe and secure, they can provide that for their child. And I think that's the best way to do this, but by all means talk with your children about what their concerns are and help reassure them that we're going to all work together to try to make the world, as well as our homes, as safe as possible.