Children no longer live in a world of simple fears like those experienced by Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. She gasped, "Oh my!" after learning she may soon encounter frightening "Lions, tigers, and bears."
Unlike Dorothy's companions, we hear the media chant about weekly terrorist acts, school shootings, and bombs that take planes down. Not so surprising, this results in more than just an "Oh my!" from our children. As parents and caregivers, we can take deliberate steps to help them move forward in life rather than being paralyzed by the fear of what might happen.
When Dorothy was afraid to continue walking into the spooky forest, she found the strength to continue by turning to those closest to her. To help your little ones manage their fears, do it like Dorothy. Apply the following 6 tips to your family.
- Bring up the topic of "bad things." No matter how protective you are, your children know something bad is taking place in the world today. Listening to what they say will allow you to clarify any misinformation they have. Like Dorothy, the scary lion she imagined was far worse than he actually was. Talking about terrorism will help calm unnecessary fears they have. You might say something like "Terrorism is not everywhere. There are many more good people than bad. Just know, our home is safe and we are safe."
Stay close to loved ones. There is no place like home for children who are fearful. This is the time to give them extra attention, affection, and reassurance that they are loved, and their family is safe. Stick to routines. No matter how bad things got for Dorothy, she found comfort in normal, everyday activities while pursing her goal of reaching Emerald city to meet the great Wizard. Routines help remind children life is orderly, predictable, and give them a sense of security. Best of all, it develops a child sense of mastery in handling daily life. Pump your children up with positive statements. As Dorothy and her friends followed the Yellow Brick Road, each experienced doubt about themselves. To help, they shared positive truths that restored emotional strength. If you hear your children say fearful things about terrorism, counter it with statements that empower them to believe in themselves. You might say, "If something bad happens at school, I know you will be safe because you are the fastest/smartest/most industrious kid I know." Believing in your children will allow them to believe in themselves, too. Encourage children to comfort their favorite toy. The younger a child is, the more they believe that inanimate objects possess the feelings they do. This creates an opportunity for parents to help children cope with the emotions stirred up from terrorism. All you have to do is say to your child, "Sweetie, Do you think Miss Bunny is afraid of X (fill in)?" Then ask your child for suggestions on what she might tell the stuffed animal to feel better. This, in turn, will actually comfort the child. For older children, you can ask them, "If your friend felt afraid, what would you tell them to do?" Each strategy gives the same results. Even Dorothy learned that real courage came from facing her fears. Have a safety plan. All Dorothy needed to do was click her ruby slippers and she'd be home, safe and sound. If it could only be that easy. School children are familiar with drills. Routinely, they practice fire drills and school shooter drills. The newest drill to some schools is the terror drills where they are taken out of classrooms, put on buses and sent to "alternate locations." As severe as this may seem, drills teach children how to react if these conditions happen. Having a plan in place when they are out of school will give them a sense of control. When people don't have a plan, they feel helpless, confused and panic when terror strikes and no one is there to guide them.