Keeping Kids Feeling Safe in an Unsafe World

DUCK TAPE AND DIRT BOMBS Last Saturday, I made a left turn into the parking lot of Wal-Mart, accompanied by my nine-year-old son, and noted the substantial number of vehicles squeezed into the snow-restricted spaces. ...

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DUCK TAPE AND DIRT BOMBS

Last Saturday, I made a left turn into the parking lot of Wal-Mart, accompanied by my nine-year-old son, and noted the substantial number of vehicles squeezed into the snow-restricted spaces. "What are they giving the stuff away?" I remarked, in rhetorical fashion typical of parents.

"They're probably here to buy duct tape and plastic," my son said, half joking, half serious.

I had to laugh out loud at the joking side of his comment, but wondered about the serious side. I had no idea he was even aware of any current events, since he heads straight past the headlines right to the comics at breakfast and will choose Nicklelodeon over the nightly news every time. Does he know something I don't? Is he as worried about terrorism and war as I am?

I decided to play along. "Yeah, you're probably right. They need the duck tape to tape ducks to their window, like an early warning system, so if someone throws a dirt bomb at your window, the ducks will start squawking, then you can run right out with some Windex and clean it before it smudges the windows and the neighbors complain."

"What's the plastic for?" he asked.

"You need it just in case there's a rock hidden in the dirt bomb and it breaks the window. Then you tape the plastic over the hole so the ducks don't fly away if they happen to wiggle loose from the duck tape."

He laughed and said, "Putting rocks in dirt bombs or snowballs is a real dirty trick."

Yes, I thought, just like detonating yourself on a crowded bus or hiding lethal biological toxins in hospitals.

TALKING WITH KIDS ABOUT TERROR, VIOLENCE AND WAR

We are learning to live with constant anxiety. School shootings, sniper attacks, child abductions, terror alerts and the threat of war dominate the headlines and evening news. How do we talk with kids about a dangerous world and keep them safe when we feel so vulnerable?

Childhood should be a time when children are shielded from the concerns, stresses and responsibilities of the adult world and protected from abuse, exploitation and violence. Children depend on adults for the feelings of safety and security that enable them to interact with and learn from the world. Without this basic sense of trust, positive development may be impeded.

Duct tape won't make children feel safe. What children need are adults they can trust and depend on. Here are some tips for talking with and protecting kids.

1. Limit children's exposure to news of violence, terror or war. Turn off the television or radio when children are watching or listening.

2. Answer children's questions as simply as possible without being dishonest. One way to keep it simple is to ask them what they think. For example, seven-year-old Bobby may ask, "Will Daddy have to go to war?" and Mom may ask in turn, "What do you think?" or "How do you feel about war?" The child's response may be the answer both of you are looking for.

3. Maintain normal routines and meaningful rituals. Children feel secure when morning routines, meals and bedtime are predictable and nurturing.

4. Provide positive outlets for strong emotions. Play, vigorous exercise, reading together, talking it out and prayer or meditation are all positive coping methods.

5. Model peaceful, non-violent behavior. Show your children that it is possible to live peacefully in the world by making your home a safe place, free from physical and emotional distress.

6. Reassure children that you love them and will do everything possible to keep them safe.