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"Will Planes Fall on Our House?" - How to Respond Effectively
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In the last section, we discussed four aspects of the long-term effects of terrorism on children. The four aspects we discussed are: the effects on preschool children, on middle and high school students, on elementary students, and on middle school students in communities distant from the terrorist event.
In this section, we will discuss answering five questions children frequently ask about safety and security. These five questions are, will bombs fall on my house, who will take care of me if my parents get killed, why don’t I feel safe, will terrorists hurt me, and do adults worry about war too.
Megan, age 5, had been brought to therapy by her mother, Alice, three months after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Although Megan lived several states away from any of the attacks, and had not known anyone killed or injured, Alice believed Megan was displaying signs of post traumatic stress.
Alice stated, "At first, I was so intent on watching the news every second I could, I barely noticed if Megan was in the room. But then I noticed she was having trouble sleeping. And she’s always asking me questions that I really don’t know how to answer. I mean, how do you talk to someone so young about what’s going on in the world? She’s always asking, ‘are we safe, how do you know?’ and makes a fuss when I leave the house without her."
I explained to Alice that there can be five questions children usually ask specifically relating to issues of safety of security.
5 Questions Children Frequently Ask About Safety and Security
♦ Question #1 - ‘Will bombs or planes fall on our house?’
A first of these questions is, ‘Will bombs or planes fall on our house?’ I stated to Alice, "If Megan has been exposed to the news, she may think that the events she sees are happening close by. Young children do not often have a great sense of distance, ‘far away’ to Megan may mean as close as her grandparents house 20 miles away. One action you can take to help Megan is to carefully explain that there are different kinds of ‘far aways’."
I also explained to Alice that asking these questions may be about different issues for Megan. I stated, "Young children like Megan may only need you to answer this question with ‘no’ and a hug. She may really be asking for reassurance that you love her and will protect her."
♦ Question #2 - "Who will take care of me if my parents get killed?"
A second question children may ask about safety and security is "Who will take care of me if my parents get killed?" I explained to Alice that abandonment is one of most people’s greatest fears, and is especially frightening to a child. I encouraged Alice to explain to Megan that most parents have made arrangements for someone they know and trust to take care of their children in case something happens to them.
I stated, "It may be helpful to talk to Megan about who you have chosen, and to invite her input about your choice. Letting her know you have thought about this may be very comforting and reassuring to Megan, and it may help her to know other people besides her parents love and care for her."
♦ Question #3 - "Why don’t I feel safe?"
In addition to will bombs fall on my house, and who will take care of me if my parents get killed, a third question children may ask about safety and security is "why don’t I feel safe?" I stated to Alice, "If Megan asks you why she doesn’t feel safe, it can be very important to reassure her that it is normal for people to have these feelings, and that she and her family can help take care of each other when they have these feelings." I also reminded Alice that Megan may pick up on feelings of anxiety from the adults in her life.
♦ Question #4 - "Will terrorists hurt me?"
A fourth question children may ask regarding feelings of safety and security is "Will terrorists hurt me?" I stated to Alice, "One good way to answer this question is to tell Megan that no, terrorist will probably not hurt her. You might remind her of all of the different kinds of people whose job it is to protect people. However, you might also tell Megan that what makes terrorists so scary is the unknown. We don’t know exactly what they will do, and that is frightening. Still, reassure Megan that if something happens, it will probably not be near her, and that lots of people are working very hard to catch terrorists."
♦ Question #5 - "Do adults worry about war and terrorism too?"
In addition to will bombs fall on my house, who will take care of me if my parents get killed, why don’t I feel safe, and will terrorists hurt me, a fifth question children may ask regarding feelings of safety and security is "Do adults worry about war and terrorism too?"
I stated to Alice, "It is important to answer this question honestly. You may want to tell Megan that yes, adults worry too. You might explain to Megan that you worry too, and that your worry is why you watch the news often, so that you know what is going on. You might carefully share some of the worries you have with Megan, in an age-appropriate manner. Emphasize that is normal and natural to worry, and that it is also normal and natural to cry and share your feelings."
I encouraged Alice to try the News Conference technique to help encourage Megan to continue to ask questions. I stated, "You might encourage Megan to open up about questions she has by setting up a little ‘news conference’ in your living room. You and Megan’s father might gather up some different simple costumes or hats that can represent doctors, generals, and government officials. Set up a chair and a microphone prop facing the room, and then set out some chairs for the ‘reporters’.
"You might get Megan involved in setting up by inviting her to seat some of her toys in the extra chairs to be the other reporters. Give Megan a reporter costume and a notepad, and invite her to ask questions of the ‘officials’. You and your husband can take turns playing different important people Megan has questions for, changing costumes or hats each time you change identity."
Think of your Megan. Would the News Conference technique help him or her ask the questions he or she needs to have answered?
In this section, we have discussed five questions children frequently ask about safety and security. These five questions are, will bombs fall on my house, who will take care of me if my parents get killed, why don’t I feel safe, will terrorists hurt me, and do adults worry about war too.
In the next section, we will discuss four questions that children exposed to stressors created by secondary or media exposure to a terrorist attack may ask. These five questions that children may ask about terrorists are, what is a terrorist, why do terrorists act so crazy, why do terrorists pick buildings with people in them, why do terrorists say that God is telling them to attack people, and is it ok to hate terrorists?
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