How can we help our children cope with the horror coming out of Oklahoma City? Here’s some advice from Ana RivasVasquez, a Miami child psychologist:
Q: Should parents keep children from even watching the nightly news?
A: We should keep small children from seeing those gruesome pictures. But we shouldn’t try to keep them from everything. How much you let them see depends on the maturity of the child, not their chronological age. With something as horrible as this, everybody will be talking about it. Your children should get it from you and not from anybody else.
Q: How should parents approach this?
A: The worst thing you can do, if they ask questions or have reactions, is to not allow them to talk about them. You should make yourself very accessible to the child, so they can talk about their fears and concerns. Children can fantasize greatly. They might think that if it happened there, it can happen here.
Q: Many parents are crying, too, when they see the pictures. Is it harmful to let our children see us cry?
A: Children should see that you have feelings about it. It’s very appropriate. This is a horrible thing. We need to be upset. But you should not overreact. Your child will model his reaction to that of the parent.
Q: So how should we react?
A: Handle it the way you want your child to: with concern and empathy for the people involved.
Q: Should we try to explain to our children the politics of terrorism?
A: To the level you think they can comprehend. You can tell them that sometimes there are politics, and people do bad things. But it’s wrong. Children don’t want tiny details if they’re young. They want to understand that it’s wrong, and it should not have happened.
Q: What about prayer?
A: If you have religious values, you need to pray.
Q: What else should we do?
A: Children can feel very vulnerable; it can be really scary for them. We need to let them know that the people who are here to protect us are doing what they should. That we have a government to take care of it. That the president is looking into it.
Q: If children don’t say anything, how can you tell if they’re upset?
A: If a child is unusually quiet or preoccupied, it’s important to draw them out. If you listen to children, they’re going to talk. Just listen to them.