HELP CHILDREN DEAL WITH IMAGES OF WAR

March 31, 2003 11:00 pm

America is at war and American troops are putting their lives on the line in the Middle East. The images of the war are being delivered regularly to our living rooms through television. The images can be difficult even for adults to deal with. The reality of war is not a pretty sight. Imagine, then, the uncertainties children might be feeling.

Parents need to do all they can to provide their children with the information and support they need during these turbulent times.

Children may not understand what causes countries to go to war. To them, the images on TV might seem surreal. Yet they know the images and news are everywhere. They might not seem affected, but considering the enormity of what is going on, it would be hard for anyone not to be.

Author and child psychologist Don MacMannis has released some suggestions parents can consider in helping ease children's fears about war. Here are his 10 tips for parents:

1. Discuss your children's concerns by first asking what they are hearing from peers, school and the news. Don't fill them with fears they might not have, but also realize the fears don't go away if we try to ignore them.

2. Help them separate imagined from realistic fears. Entertainment and real events can blend together and their imaginations can run wild.

3. Don't hesitate to limit young children's exposure to TV news. If they insist on watching, watch with them so you can gauge their reactions and talk about it.

4. Watch for signs of acting out, of sadness, aggression toward others and new fears that may seem unrelated to the war.

5. The greatest gift you can give them is your sense of well-being, so handle your own stresses and emotions constructively. Share your own fears with them, but do so with restraint.

6. Use this as an opportunity to teach lifelong social and emotional skills.

7. Provide additional constructive outlets for children's feelings, such as drawing and writing stories and poems.

8. Allow some acting out of war play to vent frustrations, but don't let it become aggressive.

9. Find ways for your child to help others. Donate time, provide services, send letters and drawings.

10. Keep normal routines and rules, and help your children feel loved and safe.

With these and other ideas, parents can help their children deal with war's hard images.