By Kiran Ansari :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::drawing courtesy of KidsPeace
Here are a few tips for parents on how to make children feel safer adapted from the New York University Child Study Center, Judith Myers-Walls and www.familyeducation.com. • Parent evaluation. Assess your own anxiety level, political and moral beliefs. Children are very good at sensing adult emotions. Sort through your feelings before speaking to your children.
• Open communication. Just because your kids may not ask specific questions, doesn't mean they aren't curious. Let them take the lead. Find out where they get their information from and how they absorb it. Note what they are interested in and why.
• Go beyond questions. If children are unable to verbalize their feelings, encourage them to draw a picture or read a story. It's often easier to talk about other peoples' emotions than your own.
• Avoid information overload. Match your answer to the child's question. You'll be surprised how a simple, honest and age-appropriate answer can satisfy their curiosity. It is OK to repeat things and have several conversations to reassure them and help separate rumors from facts.
• Encourage multicultural activities. Talk to kids or show them movies about other faiths and countries. Try the food, music or clothes of another culture on a regular basis. Attend an interfaith program or make friends with people from a different background.
• Create a strong support system. Coordinate efforts in such a way that the children receive consistent information from all branches of their support system-school, home and community.
• Teach children not to stereotype. Explain how generalizations have hurt the feelings of their Arab or Muslim classmates. Teach empathy. Be their role model. If you witness a discriminatory act or an unfair remark, don't ignore it assuming your children will too. Explain how you disagree with what is being said or done.
• Structure free time. Do not totally ban TV. That may lead them to resort to other outlets over which you will have no control. Watch and discuss the news with older children. Engage them in constructive activities by diverting their energies toward sports, arts and community service.
• Reassure them. Children love routine. Make a conscious effort to provide as much stability as possible. But don't make unrealistic promises.
• Devise a safety plan. Update emergency contact numbers. Review them with the kids periodically. Do it as part of a family routine so as not to scare them.
• Let them contribute. Allow them to channel their feelings of helplessness into opportunities to make a difference. Let them volunteer at the Red Cross, write letters to the troops overseas, send gifts to the Iraqi children or e-mail the president.
Kiran Ansari is a writer who lives in Roselle with her husband and son. Her last Chicago Parent story was about Ramadan.