What To Tell Your Children

As parents recover from their own shock over the tragic events in New York and Washington, their next task is to deal with the inevitable questions from their children-particularly after youngsters have seen horrific images on television.

The first rule is any traumatic situation is to assure children that everyone in their family is OK and that they are safe at home with you. Always answer questions as honestly and simply as possible. Tell them that there has been a terrible tragedy and that the police, firefighters and other public safety workers are doing everything they can to help the people who have been hurt and to make sure that no one else is hurt. If you don't know all the answers, say so. When they ask who the "bad guys" are, explain that we don't know but we're trying to find out. If they are familiar with the World Trade Center or the Pentagon, you can explain that these buildings were the targets.

Beyond that, the information that you provide largely depends on the age of the child. Very young children, especially those under 6 or 7, should not watch graphic pictures on TV. They are simply too immature to have any understanding of what's going on. You can explain what's happening in general terms, but keep the discussion straightforward. Reassure them that they are safe with you; that is what they really want to know.

As events unfold, you may decide to let slightly older children, up to age 11 or 12, see some of the images on the news, but use discretion. You want to know what's going on, of course, but try and limit what your children see. Pictures of people who are hurt, especially of children who are injured, will be very disturbing to them.

Young teenagers can absorb more information and have some context for understanding the historical background of these events. You should discuss the events as openly as you can, trying not to scare them. Tell them that it is quite natural to feel both sadness and anger, that you feel those emotions yourself, and that this is a time for everyone to pull together.