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Talking To Kids About Sept. 11

The Sept. 11 anniversary promises to evoke all kinds of memories, emotions and fears in Americans, particularly in the youngest ones.

Freddi Greenberg, editor-in-chief of Nick Jr. magazine, visits The Early Show to discuss what children really want to know and offer suggestions on how to share your own feelings without scaring or confusing your child. She will also provide a list of warning signs that your child may be struggling, and suggestions for handling this.

The children who are most vulnerable and will need the most attention during this time are, of course, those directly impacted by the events of Sept. 11 as well as those who have a history of loss or trauma, Greenberg says.

Children are normally fairly self-centered, concerned about their own world of friends and family. This means that if they are not directly affected, they don't spend much time thinking about an event that occurred miles away and months ago, she adds.

However, like it or not, your child will be exposed to the anniversary through the media, school activities and community events. Children also tend to pick up on the vibes of their parents and teachers, who are bound to be struggling some with the anniversary, notes Greenberg.

So here are her suggestions on how to bring up the subject with your child:

Under six: Only discuss Sept. 11 if your child brings it up first. "Listen to his concerns and give simple, honest answers. Don't give more detail than asked for. When children this age ask questions about Sept. 11, they are really asking about their personal safety. Reassure them that their immediate world of friends and family is safe and remind them of all the people working to keep things that way," says Greenberg.

Seven or older: Still take your cue from your child, answer the questions with the goal to reassure your child.

Greenberg says, "If you know that your child is sensitive, you might want to ask her some open-ended questions such as, 'Is there anything that you've seen on TV or at school that's bothering you?' Never put words such as, "you must be worried about ..." in her mouth. Sometimes when older kids do want to talk about their fears or questions, they don't know how to get started. Again, help them out with an open-ended question."

Greenberg has three general rules for parents to help children of any age through the next week.

  • Limit Media Exposure: "Kids just don't need to see this. Chances are, they will be hearing about the event plenty of other places so when you can control exposure, do so. Young kids don't have a sense of time or anniversaries; if they see pictures on TV they may think the attack is happening again."
  • Ask About School Events: "Many schools will commemorate 9/11 or use the events as a teaching tool. If your child's school does not send home information about the day's planned events, call the principal or teacher. You'll want to know how the subject was addressed at school so you can follow up at home."
  • Control Your Reactions: "As said earlier, kids pick up on how parents and other important adults are feeling. Your emotions and attitude are sure to affect your child, so try and keep them under control. However, this does not mean lying about your feelings. Don't pretend you are not upset; just be sure to put a positive spin on things. Explain why you're feeling a certain way then end by saying, 'But I'm glad we're all here safe together,'"

If you are unsure about how your child is handling Sept. 11, Greenberg says, the following behaviors are warning signs that they're upset.
  • Trouble Sleeping
  • Change in Mood, Appetite
  • Extremely hyper or sedate
  • Behavioral problems - Discipline Problems
  • Unusual or Aggressive Play

    If these behaviors don't subside in about a week or become of concern to you, seek help from a health-care professional, says Greenberg, who is also quick to point out not to automatically assume that these behaviors are a result of the Sept. 11 anniversary. Although that's a good possibility, the anniversary also coincides with the first days of school - another stressful time for kids.

    Finally, once kids have expressed their feelings, parents need to know how to ease their fears. Play is a great way to do this. "Encourage kids to act out frustration with puppets or draw things that make them nervous," says Greenberg.

    The following is a list of recommended books:

    • The Reptile Room
      By: Lemony Snicket
      Publisher: HarperCollins Publishing
    • The Miserable Mill
      By: Lemony Snicket
      Publisher: HarperCollins Publishing
    • The Austere Academy
      By: Lemony Snicket
      HarperCollins Publishing
      Publisher: HarperCollins Publishing
    • When I Feel Scared
      By Cornelia Maude Spelman
      Illustrated by Kathy Parkinson
      Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
    • I Pledge Allegiance
      By Bill Martin Jr. and Michael Sampson
      Illustrated by Chris Raschka
      Publisher: Candlewick Press
    • Onthatday
      A Book Of Hope For Children
      by Andrea Patel
      Publisher: Tricycle Press
      a little division of Ten Speed Press
      Originally published in December 2001 by Star Root Press
    • This Place I Know
      Poems of comfort
      Poems Selected by Georgia Heard
      Illustrations by Eighteen Renowned Picture Book Artists
      Publisher: Candlewick Press
    • Fireboat
      The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey
      By Maira Kalman
      Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
    • The Day Our World Changed
      Children's art of 9/11
      Introduction by Rudolph W. Giuliani
      Robin F. Goodman, PhD. & Andrea Henderson Fahnestock
      Forwards by Harold S. Koplewicz, M.D. & Robert R. Macdonald
      New York University Child Study Center & The Museum of the City of New York
      Publisher: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.