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Letter to Parents on Helping Our Children Deal with the Events of September 11

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Fr. Demetri Tsigas
Holy Trinity, Portland, Oregon

How do we help our children deal with the events of September 11 and their aftermath? The first thing is to reassure them that their world is secure. Hold them, be there for them, and help them identify the things that are still the same; their school and teachers, their friends and family, and especiallyGod and their church. Even if all these pass away, God will be there loving us, holding us and comforting us. God will never depart from us.

Then as they are able and according to their ability to understand, help them begin to process and understand what happened. Even very young children can see and feel our emotions and know that something is wrong, that their world has changed. Comfort them and assure them that their world is still intact.

It is important for each of us to identify what the events of that day mean to us. What does the loss of the TwinTowers and the attack on the Pentagon symbolize for you? What does the massive loss of civilian life mean to you? What does the terrorist act itself mean to you? Having watched the TV news, listened to radio reports and/or read the newspaper, it is important to clearly identify,to state aloud and even write down in detail the answers to these and other questions. Having done so, help your children identify what they think happened and what it means to them on their own level.

Having rationally worked through what the event represents, we next need to work through it emotionally and spiritually. Talk to friends and loved ones about the events; email is okay, but a phone and especially direct face-to-face contact is better. Talk about your feelings and not just the events. Tell them how you were affected, and listen to them tell you how they were affected. In your prayers, talk to God about the events and their aftermath. He is your Creator and Heavenly Father who loves you and cares about you more than you can possibly know.

Having done this for yourself, listen to your children. Ask them how they are feeling. Be patient. Give them lots of time and prompt them only when they are truly having difficulty finding the words to express themselves. You may even have to help them understand what their various feelings are; fear, confusion,sadness, anxiety, etc.; these and others can be very difficult for young children to understand. They will likely be feeling everything you are feeling. Again, realize that they feed off your emotions. They also have emotions all their own. It's important to have them identify them and share them. Having done this, pray with them and help them talk to God about all they are thinking and feeling.

Negative emotions are hard to admit sometimes. Anger, resentment and hate can easily be emotions we feel, especially given the nature of the evil events. It is important for each of us to struggle to understand evil, both in ourselves and in others. God is not the source of evil. He has given us free will. He wants us to choose to do good and loving things but sometimes, in our fallen state, we choose to do evil and hurtful things.

Those who terrorized us did an unspeakably evil and hurtful thing. Some people, in reaction to this, are seeking to hurt and do evil to others...even to other innocent people in our community. Some people who have been hurt choose to hurt others. As Christians, we are called to forgive even our enemies. When we harbor these evil thoughts and feelings, we distance ourselves from God and from each other. We need to repent, both individually and as a society, for the evil, hurtful things we have done to others. AsChristians we need to pray for our enemies. Our God is a God of forgiveness, mercy, justice, wisdom,truth and love. We need to pray that He may grant these things to us and to our leaders.

Having done the rational, emotional and spiritual processing, we next need to actually do something, particularly to feel like we are making a positive difference in our world. Some things we need todo alone but other things we can do as a family. Attend a memorial service for the victims. Remember them and their families in prayer. Pray for our world, our nation, our president and our civil leaders. Participate in a community event that is meaningful to you. Put up an American flag. Send a donation to the IOCC or the September 11 Relief Fund. Send an encouraging note to your local police station or fire department, or even to the families of the victims. Reach out to friends who may have been more directly affected by the terrorist act or by a similar act of violence or loss. Even though this is a most terrible tragedy, we can make a great deal of good come from it. We need to choose to make good come from it. By encouraging your children to participate in these types of activities and doing so with them, you will instill in them a strong sense of community, of responsibility to one another, of God and His Love for us all.

Finally,make sure you get back to work, school and play. Instead of just getting back into your old routine however,change the things you should change. Watch less TV and movies and seek out better, more moral and life-affirming programs and films. Seek out healthier habits, distractions and recreation. Re-prioritize your life to reflect the truly important things, the things of God. Get your family to Church. Live humbly before God and others. Try to make all the positive thoughts,feelings and actions sustained, ever-present realities of your life.

AsOrthodox Christians we are called to be patriots, to pray for our nation, our president and our civil leaders. The next few days, weeks and months will be a time of trial for us personally, as a nation and even as a world. We will continue to experience various trials and hardships. At this time especially, we need to shine the light of God's love in the world. We need to be there for our children, our family and friends, for our Churches and for our communities. Let us be a blessing to God that He may bless us all.