Students for 9/11
Drs. Jonathan Cohen & Steven Marans
the one-year anniversary of September 11th approaches, many children
and adults are still experiencing significant reactions to the
tragedy. During the past year, frequent reminders of the possibility
of further attacks on our country have contributed to an individual’s
sense of danger and emotional distress. With increasing attention
given to the anniversary itself, students could benefit from additional
assistance and support of their teachers, parents and communities.
In response to this immediate need, the New York City Board of
Education asked the Center for Social and Emotional Education
and the National Center for Children Exposed to Violence to develop
guidelines to help teachers and schools prepare for the one-year
it is important to understand that symptoms and reactions of distress
may vary from child to child. Children, as with adults, may experience
a recurrence of some of the feelings associated with a loss or
tragedy. Since the actual date of September 11th holds strong
symbolism, this may cause a strong anniversary reaction in many
individuals. Other factors such as commemorative events and media
attention may also increase these reactions. However, not all
children will appear to be impacted. Some may not have been directly
affected by the events or may not be experiencing anniversary
reactions. Although many children appear to be back to normal,
they still may be feeling sad, scared, anxious or angry. They
may also have symptoms of difficulties that neither they nor the
adults around them connect to their experiences of the anniversary.
such times of stress, memorialization can further the process
of healing and social-emotional learning for students. By planning
and participating in a memorial event, students can personally
exercise some control over how they will remember the tragedy.
A memorial event not only should remember the losses associated
with September 11th, but also should highlight community unity
and foster a sense of hope for the future. But in order for the
memorial events to have true significance, children must be actively
involved in the planning process and the events should be relevant
to their interests and developmental needs. School staff should
engage students in a discussion of what they think would be a
meaningful way to acknowledge the anniversary. The opportunity
to plan activities as a group allows children to explore how they
are feeling and to exchange suggestions about what might make
them feel better. Adults should avoid telling children what they
should feel or how they should express their feelings; they must
try to listen and respect children’s different needs and wishes.
the initiation of planning process, teachers should notify families.
Many children will be more comfortable beginning the discussions
of their feelings related to the tragedy with their own families.
This also provides an opportunity for parents to bring their concerns
or relevant family experiences, such as personal losses, to the
attention of the school. Children who have had personal losses
should be informed of what will be discussed within class and
reassured that no one will disclose their personal experiences.
Teachers and parents should establish a way for these children
to communicate with them privately and follow-up with them as
the planning progresses.
the broad impact of September 11th, teachers should attempt to
coordinate memorial planning and activities within their schools
and communities. However, too much attention to the anniversary
can also cause problems. Parents should be advised to limit the
amount of time their children view television coverageespecially
graphic material of the events. Parents and teachers should work
together to ensure that children are not overwhelmed by the material
related to the anniversary.
are some initial points to consider in planning for the anniversary
of September 11. The comprehensive set of guidelines and additional
information is available through the web sites for the Center
for Social and Emotional Education (www.csee.net) and the
National Center for Children Exposed to Violence (www.nccev.org).#
Jonathan Cohen is the President of Center for Social and Emotional
Education and Adjunct Associate Professor at Teachers College,
Steven Marans is the Director of the National Center for Children
Exposed to Violence, Child Study Center, Yale University School
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