University of Medicine and Dentistry of New
University Behavioral HealthCare
Traumatic Loss Coalition for Youth
GUIDELINES FOR HELPING CHILDREN COPE WITH DISCLOSURE
ABOUT PRISONER ABUSE AND RETALIATION TOWARDS AMERICANS
The recent disclosure in the media about the military's abuse
toward Iraqi prisoners of war and subsequent retaliation by the
beheading of an American citizen raises anxiety, fears and uncertainty
about the future. Children may be especially vulnerable due to
their cognitive development and limited life experiences.
No matter how frightening some feelings are it is more frightening
if no one addresses them. If adults are silent, the children who
depend on them may experience the added fear that we are not able
to take care of them. Adults are in a position to create an atmosphere
of security, stability and support, which will provide a cushion
against the full impact of this disturbing news. Thus, it is important
that adults first acknowledge their own feelings and find suitable
ways to lessen their own anxiety.
Remember, these reactions are a normal response to extraordinary
events. People have different ways of coping and need to do what
is best for them. Identify your individual ways of coping: increase
knowledge, connect with others, engage in nurturing activities,
and honor your spirituality. To assist children, adults can:
- Recognize the impact of media (TV, radio, internet, newspaper)
on children. Provide an opportunity for children to discuss
what they have seen or read.
- Clarify information in order to dispel misconceptions. The
child's understanding of the event will vary according to each
child's developmental stage. Adults should take their cues from
children and respond to the information they express. Giving
children too much information is not necessary and can enhance
their anxiety. In your explanation clarify that this situation
is an isolated incident and that steps are being taken to bring
those accused to trial.
- Limit children's exposure to media to lessen its impact. Watching
horrific scenes repeatedly can cause children to think that
the events are ongoing. It is a good idea for adults to limit
their own exposure to this media as well because repeated viewing
can be traumatizing.
- Talk with children about their feelings and validate their
reactions. Maintain structure and normal routine. At a time
when the world appears chaotic, children find comfort in "business
as usual" in their homes and schools.
- Increase communication between home and school.
To arrange an interview with Betty Christie, director
of the TLC, call Tom Capezzuto in the University News Service
at (973) 972-7273.