Being Thermostats to the Thermometers in our Lives
NOTE: Following the September 11, 2001 terrorists' attacks, long-time elementary school counselor and author, Leann Hanshaw (author or our best selling Seymour the Seal™ and Sealed with™. . . lifeskills storybooks), has been called upon to assist many traumatized children and parents. Following are suggestions Mrs. Hanshaw has developed to help adults deal with the devastation and enable them to help the children with whom they have contact.
Considering that thermostats are automatic (inside controls to keep temperatures constant and 'normal', imagine the children as the thermometers who continually react to the outside environment, and must be assisted by the thermostats (the caring, controlled adults in their lives who model appropriate behavior for them).
Model a sense of calm and confidence, but be honest in sharing that adults have feelings similar to those of the children. Do not allow any television viewing concerning the attacks in the elementary school classrooms.
Hug or hold children who show fear and cannot express themselves. Tell them you love them.
Allow soft puppets (with which the children are familiar) to be available for petting, hugging, 'talking to'.
Keep in mind that different ages have different reactions. Pre-school and early primary students may not be overly concerned, unless they have a loved one affected by the tragedy, or unless a parent is involved because of his/her job.
Do not mention the tragedy to the class until you are ready to do classroom-positive activities. Small children may want to share individually.
Consider that some of the most traumatized have already experienced unsettling things in their lives and this just adds more instability. This includes separation divorce, abuse, illness, accidents, natural disasters, etc.
Be honest in giving answers. Do not dwell on the ugliness unless the children suggest it. Then handle answers in a short, frank, non-threatening, simple approach. Then move on.
Relate that some grown-ups who did not practice responsible behavior made some bad decisions/choices. Share that as in all bad decisions, things can happen that cause hurt to others and that the ones making the bad choices have to pay the consequences. Suggest good choices children and families can make to help others.
Know that anger, fear, anxiety, nightmares, unusual behaviors, lack of concentration and change of personality can accompany the child's reactions. Severe cases should be referred to the counselor or an outside agency or clinic.
Assure the children that the government, military leaders and other responsible adults are taking new preventative measures to attempt to insure that similar terrorist acts will not happen again.
Remember, all people need to feel a sense of love, and need reassurance that they are loved. All people also need a sense of control or freedom to make their own choices. All people need to have a feeling of self-worth or power. Give the children choices of ways to help others affected by this. Then hug them and brag on them for caring and thinking of others.
Allow the children to have fun. Let them continue to do things that are fun without feeling guilty about it.
Encourage the children to think about the heroes who showed so much courage during the terrible events.
Provide opportunities for children to show pride in America. Allow students to learn about our flag, its background, its symbolism, how it is to be displayed, how it is to be respected. Say the Pledge of Allegiance, and help the children understand the meaning of the words.
Make patriotic banners, posters, and drawings. Encourage journaling for those able to write in sentences. Have patriotic assemblies. Write stories and poems on 'Why We're Proud to Be American'.