Clouds of war, distressing to most adults, can be nightmarish to children.
Such traumas are the special concern of pastors and others who counsel families separated by the Persian Gulf crisis.But other people are indirectly affected by the crisis, and it can be particularly frightening to youngsters, says a New York minister who has counseled children.
With television focused on deployment of troops and guns, coupled with the sights and sounds of everyday violence in home communities, children need special reassurance to allay anxieties about danger and loss of security, the Rev. Arthur Caliandro said.
"News clips and stories of mothers and fathers going off to a threatened war, pictures of weapons and soldiers on the move - all seem to give a sense of foreboding to our children," he said.
He said children are at a stage when "safety and certainty are especially important."
Caliandro, senior minister of New York's historic Marble Collegiate Church, with postgraduate training in psychology, has conducted classes for 6-to 13-year-olds on dealing with the crisis.
He offers several suggestions to parents on how to help youngsters cope:
- Don't shield them from the realities of a troubled world, recognizing that children have seen that people can at times be bad toward one another.
- Don't blame God for the threatened conflict. God doesn't make war, people do. And people are responsibile for making peace, too.
- Discuss the gulf crisis and their fears with sensitivity, assuring them by word and by your presence that they are loved and won't be abandoned.
- Be careful not to teach children to hate others. To encourage a blanket hatred of Iraqis or Moslems or any other group will complicate their growth. Point out that almost all people get angry and many have waged war and also that families of other religions and nationalities are like us.
- With older children, acknowledge the dangers in our troubled and violent world. Point out that hardship and losses are part of life and acceptance of danger helps deal with any pain it may bring.
- Encourage optimistic attitudes. Tell the story of Eastern Europe becoming free, helping them believe things can get better. Being optimistic is not naive; pessimism never improves bad situations.
- Use the opportunity to teach the difference between anger and peace, between worry and trust, in their own lives, helping them learn to seek peace and to make their minds more peaceful so they sometimes can teach others how.
- No matter how tense the situation gets, encourage them to hold on to hope and to know that history's most heroic moments were sustained by hoping and praying against impossible odds.
In a similar vein, the Justice for Women's Committee of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) issued a special call to prayer for women and children affected by the gulf crisis.
Roman Catholic Bishop Francis Quinn of Sacramento, Calif., offered what he termed an "awkward" prayer for about 120 National Guard soldiers recently as they left for duty in the Persian Gulf.