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Offer hope, listening to help kids through crisis, WMU worker counsels

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–Sept. 11’s terrorist attacks and the possibility of a military response by the nation have underscored anew the need for parents and other adults to answer questions from children about war and violence, said Joye Smith, Woman’s Missionary Union consultant for preschool and children’s audiences.

Adults need to listen to children’s fears, Smith said, and offer reassurance as children sort through their feelings amid the crisis. Parents and leaders of church organizations indeed can offer children spiritual help, Smith said.

“One of the tremendous feelings expressed by children in times of crisis is the feeling of helplessness,” Smith said. “Children feel that there is nothing they can do. Graphic pictures on television often make children feel powerless to help.

“The greatest reassurance you can give a child is a sense of hopefulness,” Smith said. “Because of our relationship with Christ, we have a hope beyond what the world can give.”

Reminding children about the promises in Scripture is an appropriate first step, she said, referencing such passages as Psalms 62:5 and 56:3; Deuteronomy 31:6; Matthew 28:20; and John 14:27.

Identifying a ministry project to aide victims of the crisis also would alleviate children’s helplessness, Smith said. In the case of the Sept. 11 tragedy, donations to support Southern Baptist Disaster Relief efforts can be made either to the North American Mission Board or state Baptist conventions that respond.

Among other tips for helping children through a crisis:

— Listen to preschoolers and children as they talk about the incident, Smith said. Explain the crisis to them. News reports and conversations with other children at school and at play could give them a distorted view of the crisis and create more questions about the situation.

— Give simple, direct answers to questions directed to the child’s concerns, Smith said. Do not over-explain the situation, but give answers at their level of understanding. Too many details could confuse the child and create even more fears. A 5-year-old might ask, “What is war?” A good answer is, “It is a fight between people.”

With older children, asking how they feel about what they have heard is helpful, Smith said. Open-ended questions will help the child express his or her fear and concerns, she said, noting that adults should be carefully listening.

— Show respect for the concerns and fears of the child. The fears may be unfounded to the adult, but they are real to the child. Reassure the child of his/her safety and that parents and other adults will do everything possible to assure safety.

— Watch for signs of stress in children, Smith said. Children react to stress through their actions. A child may not tell you how he or she is feeling, but will show it behaviorally. Look for such changes as becoming overly aggressive or passive, sleeping problems or loss of appetite, Smith said, advising that if the behavior persists, a parent should talk with a minister or professional counselor.

Workers with children should share with parents any behavior changes they observe, Smith added. And they should offer children a sense of stability by their consistency. The consistency of an adult nurtures trust in a child, Smith said. These workers also should provide a secure environment for children and remind them that they are loved.

To see the fuller text of Smith’s comments, visit www.wmu.com. Also visit www.wmustore.com and see “Create a Safer World: Ideas for Reducing Violence in Your Community and Peace in a Violent World,” by Susan and Taylor Field, North American missionaries in New York City.
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