When Terrorism Strikes: What Parents Can Do

August 23, 2006 at 4:21 pm  •  Posted in Anxiety by  •  0 Comments

By Lynn Hagan, PsyD, CTRS, LCSW
NOTE: Lynn Hagan is a social worker who lived and worked in Kuwait for five years. As part of her duties she counseled State Department employees helping them deal with the stress and tension of living in this highly volatile region bordered by Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

Helping Your Child


By now, many children have witnessed, over and over again on television, acts of horrific violence and destruction. As a consequence, you may notice that your child may begin to act differently. Following are some of the ways children respond and react to violence they’ve watched on TV.

  • Vivid memories about the events. Your child probably can and will remember detailed scenes of the traumatic incidents he or she has viewed. Children often draw pictures of the disturbing scenes or even act out what they’ve seen in play.
  • Questions and concerns. Your child may ask numerous questions about the disturbing images he or she has seen and may be frightened that similar acts of terrorism will occur again. Of course, it is natural for children to be alert and concerned, but excessive worries are a sign that children are having difficulty processing what they’ve witnessed.
  • Upset feelings or listlessness. Your child may become more easily upset or angry. Or your child may appear to be just the opposite and seem not to care about anything at all.
  • A need to talk about it. Children often feel the need to talk about what happened (the traumatic event) again and again. Even a generally quiet child may talk a lot about what he or she saw, felt and did during the time he or she witnessed the troubling event.
  • Trouble sitting still. Your child may become more active, have problems paying attention, and be more impatient.
  • Nightmares and trouble sleeping. Your child may be afraid to go to sleep or wake up frightened from bad dreams.
  • Fears of being alone. Some children are afraid of being left alone. Your child may cling to you and may be frightened of leaving home to go to school.
  • Physical problems. Your child may suffer from headaches, stomach aches, nausea, and fatigue.
Helping Your Child

You can help your child through this difficult time by:

  • Letting your child talk about the incidents. It may be painful, but the best thing you can do for children is to listen to their stories, let them draw pictures and/or act out the incidents in their play. Talking, drawing and play-acting are healthy and natural ways for children to work through difficult reactions.
  • Comforting your child. Make it a point to hold and comfort your child more during this time of adjustment. Your child is reaching out to you for security. Extra love and affection will not spoil him or her and instead will speed emotional healing.
  • Not being over-protective. This may be the most difficult for you to do, but you must fight the temptation to over-protect your child. It may be very hard even to let him or her out of your sight, but it’s important that your child returns to a regular routine as soon as possible.
  • Being a good example. Actions speak louder than words, and by your actions, you can set an example for your child of how to handle these reactions in a productive way. Behave in ways that communicate to your child that the world is safe to live in even though very bad and scary things do happen at times.
  • Encouraging your child to help and reach out to others. If your child is able, you may want to encourage him or her to make a positive difference by, for example, offering a donation to the Red Cross or other volunteer organizations. This is something that you and your child can do together and the act will increase your child’s sense of safety with you as well as in the world.
  • Seeking help if your child is suffering severe and prolonged problems. Your child needs more help if he or she is having extreme reactions, such as repeated nightmares, “flashbacks” of the event, crying spells, behavior problems, and panic reactions. If you feel you’ve tried to help your child work through his or her reactions to regain a sense of safety, but your child’s fears, sadness or anxiety does not seem to be relieved, don’t hesitate to seek help from a social worker, pastor, school counselor or other caring individual.


Leave a Reply