Local health and school officials say the Persian Gulf war is confusing and traumatic to some children and counseling may be necessary for those who experience behavioral changes as the war progresses.
Psychiatrists say adults are more apt to understand the war and their role. But children want to know more and how the war will affect their lives and the lives of their loved ones. Many feel a need to contribute to the war effort and feel helpless because they are unable.Eliza Wochnik, a child psychiatrist at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center, said the war is likely to ignite a variety of feelings in children, especially those with loved ones involved or with loved ones who could become involved. And the longer the war goes on, the more prevalent the emotional problems will become, she said.
"And if the war results in extensive losses, then their symptoms will become even more pronounced," Wochnik said.
Wochnik said teenagers are the ones most likely to express frustration over the war because the war's outcome will have a more immediate impact on their lives. If the war extends over a long period of time, or ignites other wars, their future may become uncertain - especially if the draft is reinstated.
Teenagers are more likely to discuss the war among peers and may become confused because of varied opinions. So parents may notice a change in their older children's behavior.
"If they show aggression or anger it may be directed to what is happening in the Middle East," she said.
Wochnik and local school officials recommend counseling for those having difficulty dealing with the crisis.
Steven Baugh, Alpine School District superintendent, said parents should take advantage of the service offered by school counselors. He said counselors are aware of situations that could cause a behavioral change in students, and if they cannot adequately deal with students' concerns they will refer them to an agency that can.
"That's a very solid and important service that our counselors provide," Baugh said. "I think our students see the counselors as someone they can go see, close the door and talk about concerns."
Jack Leifson, public relations specialist for Nebo School District, gives similar advice.
"If parents need help with their children, they should get to us. We have the psychologists and the people trained to deal with children's concerns," Leifson said.
Provo School District Superintendent Kay Laursen said school counselors, principals and teachers are trained to notice behavioral changes in students. If a teacher is concerned about a student's behavior, school counselors will be notified.
"It's an automatic thing that teachers make referrals anytime they see a difference so we can get help to the individual," he said.
Baugh said parents should also encourage their children to ask teachers questions about concerns they have about the war. It is important that children have an understanding of why the United States and its allies took the action they did, he said.
"We think in this situation the best resource available is the teachers in the classroom. They are sensitive, have good judgment and care about their students. I'm sure the situation has alerted them and they are trying to help in any way possible," he said.
Provo School District is taking a slightly different approach. Principals were told Thursday that teachers should answer students' questions honestly but should not try to sensationalize the war. They were instructed to keep the war as low-key as possible. Laursen also said state school officials are encouraging parents not to keep children at home because of the war.
"It's better to have them in school rather than home watching the events on television and getting uptight," he said.
Leifson said counselors in Nebo have been notified of students with family members involved in Operation Desert Storm and have been instructed to give support if they see it's needed. District officials are considering group counseling for students who have family members in the Persian Gulf.
"It's a new role for our counselors, and it's a new role for our support system. But the worst thing we could do is back off and wait for them to come to us," Leifson said. "We want to help, we are here to help, and we want to know how we can help. But we have to be careful not to get personal or cross into areas that are sensitive. We need to establish a comfort zone so our help can be effective."
Children cry out
Children may experience the following emotional problems because of the Persian Gulf war:
Lack of sleep
From Eliza Wochnik, child psychiatrist at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center.