How to Explain Tragedy to Children

On September 11, 2001, I got a call from my daughter, concerned about a plane that seemed to have gone astray into the World Trade Center. Within a short while we all learned that the news was about a planned attack. The inexplicable. How do we explain this to our children? The news was frightening, tragic, disturbing, and traumatizing. Worst of all, I later heard that people, including young children, had witnessed the replay of the video on the news numerous times. That was a mistake. How Trauma Starts Research shows that, of the five senses, people are predominantly visual. For example, babies born visually handicapped, if not given special training, have a lower statistical probability of coping in life than those born deaf. The right hemisphere of the brain is available from birth to receive information and it includes receiving visual images. The left hemisphere kicks in at about 12 months and begins to learn how to explain in words the meanings gleaned from those visual images. Trauma is predominantly a visual problem although as any war veteran will tell you, the other senses most certainly are involved. Even without seeing the image of the planes going into the towers, humans will automatically create mental images to fit the words and those images can be traumatic. That is the essence of childhood nightmares, especially repeating nightmares: The child creates the images and is now afraid of them. The images carry some meaning for the child that he may or may not be able to explain. We are now faced with a new tragedy that took place in Connecticut...
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