By Lydia Tilbury Hair
Originally published Sunday, September 16, 2001
The terrorists’ attack came in New York and Washington D.C. on Tuesday, but Americans all over the country have been affected by the violence and death.
Wise County it is no different.
Both children and adults are asking why and how this could occur and could the same happen even here. People are trying to cope with a tragedy.
Counselors in Wise County have some simple steps to help residents deal with the events of the last few days – though they are quick to say that people should not think that feeling the way they do is wrong.
“People must understand that what they are feeling is normal, especially in relation to an abnormal event,” said Geanna Harris, director of the Mental Health Center in Decatur. “Give yourself permission to grieve and be sad and angry with the unknown entity. That way you can work through it.”
With children it is most important to be open and honest about the tragedy, says psychotherapist Margaret Wheatly with the Counseling Center of Decatur.
“Sit down and talk to these kids, Wheatly explained. “Be open and honest and reassure them that they are safe, that we have a strong government and that we are the most powerful nation in the world and that, above all, Mom and Dad are here for them. Talk to the kids on a level they understand. And it is all right to tell them that you were afraid, too.”
But, she added, children today have such access to television they maybe overexposed to violence and may not be affected as adults who understand that what they are seeing on television is the real thing, not a movie.
Janet Tidwell, a licensed professional counselor with the Helen Farabee Center specializing in children and adolescents, gave several steps on helping children cope with this national tragedy.
“We need to address the information,” Tidwell said. “Ask the child what he or she had seen or heard. Children are inundated by television and radio with the news reports and talk at school.”
Then, address the misinformation, including statements and actions of hate groups.
“You should tell the child that all these people (Arabs and Muslims) are not our enemies and that hate is not the solution,” Tidwell said. “This would be a great time to explain your personal values to children. Especially in children say from age seven and up, you can explain the concept of justice and punishment. This is a great time to explain that violence is not the answer. Right now children are hearing horrendous things, we should go over there and blow them away, that is a knee-jerk reaction to what has happened but children should understand the concept of justice.”
Children might ask themselves, for example, whether or not they will be “blown away” if they do something wrong.
Addressing childrens’ fears is important, and this should be done in their terms, Tidwell said.
“Find out what they are afraid of, such as the sound of a plane, and then question them back to reason,” she said.
Never tell them that their fears are “stupid,” she emphasized.
Third, address the child’s joy.
“If they have a birthday party or some special event coming up, don’t cancel it,” Tidwell said. “Let their fun index stay high. They should still be allowed to laugh.”
Fourth, address behavior. Parents may see some regression in small children. For instance an eight year-old may behave six again. Teens may demonstrate anger and direct it at their parents.
“Don’t take the anger personally, just let them know that you still have rules in your household and restate those rules,” she concluded.
Both Tidwell and Wheatly believe that with the news coverage so intense limiting television is important right now for adults, as well as children. It is natural to want to know and be aware of the facts, but time is needed away from the tragedy. Constant exposure only intensifies anger, both women said.
“This is the time to crank up the VCR and haul out the Disney,” said Tidwell.
Internet access should be limited as well, she said, though she added she believed children’s Internet sites dealt well with the tragedy.
Families should spend time talking, perhaps getting outside together, acting as if the tragedy is not happening. And teachers should “back off” the televisions in the classroom and go back to teaching classes. In short, everyone should return to a sense of normalcy.
“That’s what the terrorists are counting on – that they can get us to panic,” said Wheatly. “Return to normal routines and show them they are wrong. That is what impressed me about President Bush when he went back to the White House.”
And what about adults? The advice is much the same.
“Talking with family, friends, co-workers and church members so don’t keep your feelings bottled up inside,” explained Harris. “Return to normal. Your feelings about the tragedy will have less impact if you go back to doing what is normal for you.”
It’s also important to get enough sleep, make sure that maintain a healthy diet and don’t isolate yourself with your feelings, the counselors warned.
Tidwell said that the Mental Health Center is ready and willing to help the community deal with feelings people may be dealing with.
“We are more than willing to step in and help the community in this situation,” she said.
All three women said that if feelings children or adults are dealing with now last longer than four to six weeks, or if the person changes in any way – such as a change in grades or nightmares – help should be sought through professional counselors or spiritual leaders.
Look for more of WCMessenger.com’s special 9/11 tribute at www.wcmessenger.com/911.