As we handle our own grief over the next few months, it is important to remember how crucial it is to be aware of and responsive to our youngest children-children who cannot fully understand the catastrophe but who will learn from how we handle these uncertain times. It may be easy to think that young children are not much affected by the events of September and the current war-like climate. But that is not true. Young children, even infants and toddlers, are very much aware when the adults around them are sad and upset and feel vulnerable and endangered. We cannot protect our children from these feelings any more than we can protect ourselves. What we can do is recognize that children's fears are real and they need help facing them- just as all of us do.
How do we help? We need to face up to our own feelings about what has happened. Whether we find solace in conversation, in prayer, or by simply being quiet, it is essential to find ways to handle our own feelings.
For the youngest children, we need to hold and comfort them when they feel scared, even as we feel scared ourselves. For children who can talk, we need to explain what happened as simply as possible. We need to let them know that even if they did not personally suffer a loss, it is right to feel sad for others. We need to include them as we express our sadness.
Most important of all, we can demonstrate as we go about our daily lives that we can and will cope with fear, disaster, whatever life sends our way-and so will they, because they are loved and have us to protect them.
About the Author
Barbara T. Bowman is president and founder of the Erikson Institute for Advanced Study in Child Development.