High Anxiety in a Terror-Ridden World
'Please Explain Terrorism to Me' offers kids wisdom, reassurance, conversation
Younger kids are struggling to understand the attacks in many parts of the world that get so much media play — and they worry if they and their families are safe.
Yet few books in recent years talk directly to children about terrorism.
An increase in one type of specific worry in children may in fact actually be a worry about terrorism, said Zelinger.
Until now, that is. Child psychologist and author Dr. Laurie Zelinger of Cedarhurst, New York, has written “Please Explain ‘Terrorism’ to Me!” — a book that gets at the heart of children’s fears — and deals with them head-on in an honest way. The book will be published Nov. 1 and can be pre-ordered.
Zelinger is in private practice with her husband, Fred Zelinger, and for years also counseled children in public schools. She has noticed a definite increase in anxiety in the children she sees professionally, she told LifeZette in an interview.
“I find myself explaining things a lot to kids I see professionally, and one of my strengths, I think, is simplifying information,” said Zelinger. “Kids are going through a lot more lockdown drills in schools, and I thought that somebody needed to explain to kids their purpose — in an understandable way.”
The subtitle of her book is “A Story for Children, P-E-A-R-L-S of Wisdom for Their Parents.” The “pearls” mentioned refer to the second part of the book, which is written for adults — to guide parents and caregivers through this unsettling but important conversation with their kids.
“The ‘P’ stands for prepare, the ‘E’ is for explain, the ‘A’ is for answer, the ‘R’ is for reassure, the ‘L’ is for listen, and the ‘S’ is for safeguard,” Zelinger explained. “If parents can do those things on this topic, they will be preparing their children well without frightening them.”
The kid-geared section of book is geared to children ages seven to 11.
“The children’s part has very vivid colors,” said Zelinger, noting that the book is illustrated by retired Long Island art teacher Ann Israeli. “It features three siblings, and the middle child participates in a lockdown drill at school. He doesn’t understand what is going on, so he finally says to his parents, ‘Be honest with me,’ and they explain to him what terrorism is.”
She added, “The little boy also has an issue with bullying, and after his parents explain what terrorism is, he confides in them about the bullying he’s been experiencing.”
The boy is in elementary school, said Zelinger, but his age is purposefully ambiguous so that more children can relate to him. “He’s probably fourth-grade range,” Zelinger said. “His older brother in the book is in middle school — he plays video games. His younger sister is pre-school age.”
The book is meant to explain terror events to children in a way that can be understood at their specific developmental level, she said. “The use of recognizable details in everyday life is grounding and cuddles them in familiarity,” noted Zelinger’s publisher, Loving Healing Press, in a release.
The book does not “mention any terror groups in particular,” noted Zelinger. “It importantly covers those who help us during an attack — those who keep us safe. The thrust of the book is that kids should still be kids. You can be guarded, but not paralyzed,” she added. “I noticed there were books available on talking to kids, but nothing that spoke directly to children themselves. Our colorful pictures make it relatable without being overwhelming.”
How sad it is that we’ve come to need a picture book about terrorism for younger children. Yet Zelinger was pragmatic about this.
“Kids should still be kids. You can be guarded but not paralyzed,” said Zelinger.
“Since there’s more of a sense of alarm everywhere, this is a sign of the times,” she said. “I wanted to help kids feel empowered, and help them know also that there were people that are out there who are keeping them safe.”
An increase in one type of specific worry in children may actually be a worry about terrorism.
“I have found professionally that kids have seldom talked about fear of terrorism — but they are talking much more about ‘bad guys,'” Zelinger said. “They are telling me about fears of burglars and robbers, and the feeling that ‘someone is going to come in and steal me.'”
They’ve turned the terrorism information, she said, “into thinking that is more relatable to them, like a fear of robbers. I can’t be sure of this scientifically, but I have so many kids now who are afraid of burglars and robbers and bad guys that it makes sense — a robber is the bad guy they know, an idea they can latch onto.”