you ask Dr.
Children and Tragedy
children have experienced a terrible change in the context of
their daily lives. Some have witnessed events first hand that
no one should have to see or remember. Others have lost a parent
in a sudden and difficult manner, leaving the remaining parent
to cope, explain, and rear the child without their loving partner.
Many saw television footage worse than anything we protect them
from with R and X ratings. And all are living in a world where
there is no room in television or print media for what used to
be the ordinary things, that are still happening.
Children are resilient. Emotionally healthy children naturally
seek to right themselves on their paths to maturity. Their primary
coping approaches involve outward expression of their distress
in conversation, play, and construction. Several anecdotes in
the aftermath of the recent tragedy come to mind.
One mother reported that her four-year-old asked if his father
were really dead. A little while after she had sadly confirmed
his fear, she overheard him in his room planning a pretend birthday
party for his father. Had he failed to understand? Perhaps. But
he was also transforming and organizing this information in a
manner that he could accept at that moment. Such questions cannot
be answered once and for all for one so young.
In a local preschool the children were playing “build and bash”,
but with a difference. Once the tower was constructed, a toy plane
was the instrument of its destruction. Not an expression of childish
violence, but an attempt to render the terrible event small, comprehensible,
and reversible, as the tower was immediately rebuilt.
Adults remain the touchstone of children, as always. Parents who
themselves have directly experienced the tragedy are finding the
strength to fill that critical role for their children. Others
among us, more remotely touched, can help by offering our acceptance,
strength to all of the children we serve, and opening more opportunities
for children to express and organize their concerns in play, conversation,
and for older children, writing. With the outer world feeling
somewhat unsettled, helping children to live for a few hours a
day in a world of their own and their teachers’ making can offer
a refuge for joy and creativity.#
McCune is an associate professor at the Rutgers University Graduate
School of Education and serves as advisor to educational toy company,
General Creation. She can be reached at www.generalcreation.com
in the “Ask Dr. McCune” section.
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