Safe Horizon Expert Nancy Arnow Gives Tips on How to Cope with 9/11 Anniversary

Posted on: Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Keywords: September 11, September 11 anniversary, September 11 10th anniversary, Safe Horizon, Safe Horizon September 11, September 11 children, September 11 children anniversary, Nancy Arnow, Safe Horizon Nancy Arnow

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Jane Ridley (New York Daily News) interviewed Safe Horizon Senior Vice President Nancy Arnow to help educate the public about feelings surrounding the 10th anniversary of the tragic September 11th attacks and offered tips for parents to help children cope more effectively.

Upcoming September 11 Anniversary Calls for Parents to Strategize How to Talk to Kids About Event
by Jane Riley, Daily News Feature Reporter
August 16, 2011

(NEW YORK, NY) - The 3-year-old boy in the waiting room was busy making two identical towers out of building blocks.

He paused for a second and violently smashed a toy car into them.

Watching the scene in the months after 9-11, Manhattan mental health expert Nancy Arnow got a sense of the attack's true impact on many of the city's kids.

"He was a little child whom we didn't even think was that affected," recalls Arnow. "But he'd clearly absorbed what had happened and needed to somehow process it."

The senior vice president of child, adolescent and mental health treatment services at the nonprofit organization Safe Horizon, Arnow counseled hundreds of youngsters in the first five years after the attack.

Now, in the runup to the 10th anniversary, she and her team are expecting many of that period's issues to resurface.

"Older children may react to their own memories of the events, while younger children may respond to the reactions of those around them," she says.

"It's a good idea for parents and caregivers to plan ahead, because the media coverage is likely to intensify those reactions."

While it's important for adults to know there is no right or wrong way for children to react, there are things they can do to help children cope more effectively. Here, Arnow outlines some key strategies:

1. Recognize that children of all ages closely observe how the adults in their lives are reacting. "Children learn coping skills from watching adults experiencing difficult emotions and managing them effectively," says Arnow.

"Be mindful of how you are feeling. If you're more irritable, sad or anxious thinking about Sept. 11, kids are going to pick up on that.

"For example, a toddler is used to a caregiver being responsive. If you are preoccupied and depressed, they might find it confusing."

Think about how much you want to view images that bring back bad memories. Limit it accordingly.

Spend time with people who calm you and don't make you anxious. Use this as an opportunity to open a conversation about your feelings and your kids' feelings on what happened.

Resist the urge to tell and retell dramatic stories of where you were on 9-11 when you are in the company of children.

2. Anticipate common reactions. Young children may react with stomachaches, tantrums, nightmares, fearfulness and clinging to adults.

"If they happen to be walking by a TV set and see images of the planes crashing into the towers, and nobody has really prepared them or had discussions, it could be scary," says Arnow. "You could explain that this was a scary thing that happened but, most importantly, it was a long time ago and they are safe now.

"Tell them that, unfortunately, there are scary, bad things which happen in the world like wars, but quickly revert to the fact that they are safe."

Above all else, kids want reassurance they are secure and loved. Similarly, older children may become withdrawn, anxious or refuse to travel on subways or go to school. They may become aggressive or engage in high-risk behavior or use drugs or alcohol.

Don't brush things under the carpet, but encourage discussions, depending on the child's level of understanding. Decide with older children about whether watching a lot of anniversary coverage will be helpful to them.

3. Provide children of all ages with opportunities to talk with you about their concerns.

Younger children may need more of your time and comforting. Older children may need their reactions validated and to know there are adults in their lives to help them through the anniversary.

"Ask them if there is something which is worrying them," advises Arnow. "Take your cues from the child about how much information you give them or they're capable of understanding.

"Don't give too much information which might play into their fears."

4. Maintain a routine. Children of all ages will benefit from keeping to their usual routine as much as possible. It fosters reassurance and a sense of security.

5. Plan and rehearse emergency safety measures. "It's frightening to think you have no control over terrorism or other threats, but you and your children can take charge of certain things to make you all feel more in control," says Arnow.

Make a home safety plan so that everyone knows each other's telephone numbers, who to contact and where to go in the event of an emergency.

6. Choose with your children how you all wish to acknowledge the Sept. 11 anniversary. Involving children in anniversary activities may give them a sense of community and meaning.

"It might be helpful to draw attention to some of the good which came out of the horrific events of 9/11," says Arnow. "How this was a time when communities really pulled together and racial divides were forgotten.

"Children of today are growing up in the time of, 'If you see something, say something,' and the idea of the collective where everyone is looking out for each other."

Read the original article here: "Upcoming September 11 Anniversary Calls for Parents to Strategize How to Talk to Kids About Event"

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