Star-Bulletin Features

Wednesday, September 12, 2001

America Attacked

Eaton O'Neill watched a video report of the
second plane hitting the World Trade Center
at Iolani School yesterday.

What do we
tell the children?

Many isle schools discuss
the attacks frankly with kids

Advice from experts

By B.J. Reyes

While waiting for his son at Ala Wai School yesterday afternoon, Daniel Nguyen wasn't sure how, or even if, he would tell him about the terrorist acts that shook New York City and Washington, D.C.

But as 10-year-old Anthony Nguyen got into the car, Daniel soon had his answer. "I already know about it," Anthony said. "We talked about it."

Ala Wai wasn't the only school where lesson plans were interrupted by talk of terrorist plane hijackings and attacks against the heart of America's financial and military complexes.

Schools across the state were forced to deal with the delicate issue of how to explain the news, do it in a non-traumatic fashion, and give context to an act described by some as the worst attack against the United States since Pearl Harbor.

Elizabeth McPeak prayed for victims of the World Trade
Center attack during a service at the Catholic Diocese
of Columbus, Ohio, yesterday.

"As we proceed through this national crisis, I call upon all of you to assist our children, families and staff members through your caring and sensitive support," state schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu said.

Many schools dealt with the issue head-on, discussing the day's events with students in all grades.

At Royal School, Principal Sandra Ishihara-Shibata used the school's closed-circuit television system to address students at the beginning of the day, using video of the plane crashes into the World Trade Center to explain and give context to the events that took place thousands of miles away. The school then held a moment of silence.

"I was told that the students were very respectful," Ishihara-Shibata said. "I asked different teachers and they said they felt the students really made the connection."

Royal has about 500 students in kindergarten through fifth grades.

Daniel Nguyen picked up his son, Anthony, at
Ala Wai Elementary School yesterday. Anthony
had heard about the terrorist attacks in school.

At Word of Life Academy, a Christian charter school, Principal Royce Tanouye said one of the administration's main goals was to keep students calm and respectful toward those who may have had family members or friends in harm's way.

"For this generation, this is probably as close as they've been to a national emergency," Tanouye said.

At Ala Wai, teachers addressed the situation as they saw fit, vice principal Arnie Kikkawa said. Ala Wai has more than 500 students in kindergarten through fifth grades.

"Some teachers said they wouldn't mention it because the kids were so young," Kikkawa said. "For the older kids, it was more of getting them to ask the questions. ... It was more of a discussion."

Anthony, the Ala Wai 10-year-old, said the discussion was good for both him and his classmates.

"Sometimes when I think about it, it makes me feel uncomfortable," Anthony said. "I just don't understand why people want to hurt other people."

Iolani School teacher Tate Brown devoted a
class on U.S. government to a talk about
the day's events.

Mental health professionals said tragedies such as those in New York and Washington, D.C., can cause children, even adults, to be confused, afraid, angry or even powerless. Most schools said counselors would be made available for any students who wanted to speak to one.

At Iolani School, administrators didn't address the entire school, but teachers could talk about it as they saw fit and a television was set up in the high school's amphitheater for students who wanted to watch and discuss the events, spokeswoman Cathy Lee Chong said.

Tate Brown devoted his afternoon U.S. Government class to discussing the attacks. As students in stunned silence watched the video footage of a plane crashing into the World Trade Center, most were at a loss for words when asked, "How are you affected?"

To many students, "It all seemed like a movie," he said. "It's almost just unbelievable."

Help kids understand,
cope with crises

Star-Bulletin staff

Advice from mental health groups on how to communicate with children and adolescents during times of crisis:

>> It's important to communicate to children that they're safe.

Given what they may have seen on television, they need to know that the violence is isolated to certain areas and they will not be harmed. Parents should try to assure children that they've done everything they can to keep their children safe.

>> Adolescents in particular can be hard hit by these kinds of events and parents might want to watch for signs such as sleep disturbances, fatigue, lack of pleasure in activities enjoyed previously and initiation of substance abuse.

>> Overexposure to the media can be traumatizing.

It's unwise to let children or adolescents view footage of traumatic events over and over.

Children and adolescents should not watch these events alone.

>> Adults need to help children understand the significance of these events. Discussion is critical.

It should be stressed that the terrorist acts are ones of desperation and horror -- and that they're not about politics or religion. Children should know that lashing out at members of a particular religious or ethnic group will only cause more harm.

>> Be honest and open about the disaster, but keep information age-appropriate.

Encourage children to express their feelings through talking, drawing or playing.

Try to maintain your daily routines as much as possible.

For more information:

American Academy of Pediatrics:
National Mental Health Association:
Mental Health Association in Hawaii: 521-1846
American Red Cross, Hawaii Chapter: 734-2101

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