31 January 2005

Single...With Children: Helping Kids Feel Secure In Scary Times

Single with Children: Be attentive to kids during this war period

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 03/26/03

As I write this, the clock is ticking and it would seem that America is poised to begin a war with Iraq.

As you read this, some of the questions will be answered. How did we fare? Was there terrorist retaliation on U.S. soil? Did our country finally come together and present a more united front thAn we saw in the days leading up to the conflict?

Right now, I don't have the answers to these questions. By the time you read this, so much more will be known.

I have other questions, as well, but on a more intimate, familial level. I'm wondering how families will handle the confusion and fear these unsettling events might elicit in their children, regardless of age. As I write this, though the war hasn't commenced, cable network news programs are broadcasting nonstop about the impending battle. Children might overhear scary and dire forecasts of possible terrorist ploys, or they might get their news from other kids in school whose television viewing isn't so closely monitored. They might inadvertently walk into a discussion between adults in their own homes who are unaware young ears are present.

What I want to know most is what will be running through these young minds. If they hear the statement "high terror alert," what will they think? What do they internalize, what do they verbalize and, most of all, if they feel safe enough to discuss their fears, who are they discussing them with? It's important to know where children get their information. And, it's much better if they get it from people with no other motive than to make them feel as safe and secure as possible.

There are so many mysteries about how this war will play out that our feelings are perfectly natural. The real challenge is how to juggle our own fears and still make our children feel safe. It's a high-wire act and, lately, it feels as if there is no net to catch us if we misstep. Anxiety is running high.

Right now I'm trying to control my "news junkie" tendencies by finding other things to do. It's hard, because I find the first thing I do when I log onto the Internet or watch television is instinctively turn to channels that host a wide variety of pundits chiming in about various scenarios. And few of them seem to offer much comfort.

I'm drinking a lot of chamomile tea lately.

In the next few days and weeks, or for however long this difficult period lasts, it will be important to lend an extra-attentive ear to our children. Obviously, toddlers and preschool children won't understand the same information as adolescents and teenagers. Age will be a key factor in determining the fears that might be swirling around inside them.

We can't do much about filtering what our kids hear when they aren't under our roof, but we can pick up on the cues in their behavior when they are with us, before and after school. Rumors abound on the playground, and as far as many children are concerned, that's inside information, regardless of how sensational and far-fetched the stories might be. It will become our job to make them know they are safe and protected, with as much sensitivity, honesty and love as possible.

The coming days will present us with challenges and will force us to rise to meet the demands and fears that might confront us. What must be paramount in our minds and hearts is how we safely navigate our children, regardless of their age, through this difficult period. Making our kids feel safe is what being a parent is really all about. The task will require good information, sensitivity to their moods and demeanor, and a lot of prayer.

I wish all of us, including our president, the men and women at the front lines, and most of all, our children the very safest passage possible. Let us hope we find the peace and strength necessary to make things on the home front as comfortingly routine as possible and that our kids are visited with good dreams rather than nightmares.

Readers can e-mail Susie at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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