While America strikes back at terrorism and rallies around the notion of normalcy, there remains among many of us a disquieting sense of foreboding. What will the other shoe look like? Where will it drop? The scenarios are as varied as they are virulent.
Amid all the anxious conjecture, however, is a constant. Our lives will never be the same again. And that includes dealing with the knave new world of terrorism with our children. Their lives, of course, will never be the same again either.
Tampa psychologist Alan Lewis offers some observations and advice, some of which may surprise you. Lewis, a native New Yorker whose counseling experience ranges from anxiety-ridden, post-robbery bank tellers to traumatized paramedics and firefighters, suggests a combination of common sense and “critical learning experience” in helping our kids.
“The most important thing for parents to do is reassure their children that they’re safe,” advises Lewis. “For kids, their own safety is paramount. Reassure them that the people around them will keep them safe. Reassure them that what they’re going through is normal.”
He urges “circumspection” in front of children, which is what “parents should do anyway,” he adds. Ditto for monitoring the violence — whether in videos or in horrifically real newscasts — they are exposed to.
But Lewis also reminds parents that there is “nothing wrong with the opportunity to display emotions.
“Kids take their cues from their parents, whether they’re 9 or 19,” he points out. “It’s not inappropriate for kids to realize that this is important, and there is a sense of anger. Don’t try to be overprotective. Kids invariably understand more than we think. Just keep it on their level. And remember that grief is normal.
“You know, and this will sound funny coming from a psychologist, but ‘grief counseling’ almost implies that it’s abnormal and therefore requires a counselor,” notes Lewis. “What we have been going through — since the unthinkable occurred — is a normal process.”
Lewis also advocates using the terrorist attacks on America as a “launching pad” to talk about things we normally don’t discuss with our kids. For example: “This country needs to be defended.”
He draws a geopolitical parallel, which lends itself to a critical learning experience.
“Muslim kids, as we’ve seen, are indoctrinated at an early age,” says Lewis. “Maybe we need to remind our kids of what America is and what’s worth protecting.”