Children need to discuss the US atrocity, says psychologist

14th September 2001 at 01:00
BRITISH teachers should plan lessons to incorporate discussion about the recent terrorist attacks in America to help children to cope with their feelings about the atrocity, a clinical psychologist has advised.

Dr Lorraine Sherr of the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, north London, said that children in the UK were likely to be just as affected by Tuesday's events in New York and Washington as American children, and should be helped to explore the wider human issues in the classroom.

By avoiding reference to this week's hijacking of American Airline planes, which were driven into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, teachers could unwittingly contribute to any feelings of trauma being experienced by children, as well as failing to guide the reactions of adolescents, she warned.

Dr Sherr said: "Children are just as open to all the information sources as adults but do not have access to the same levels of reassurance and explanation.

"For this reason it is very important for teachers to plan lessons with these atrocities in mind. If they do not guide children's responses to these events some may develop extreme fears or irrational beliefs which could be headed off at this early stage.

"The best teachers will be able to embroider the subject into lessons.

"It is particularly important to address the issues raised by terrorism with adolescents as they have a tendency to be intrigued by the horror of it and find it alluring. They can focus on imagining the power and control exercised by terrorists which can lead to a glorification of terror and war.

"With an event as enormous as this teachers have a golden opportunity to explore issues of morality and send clear messages about the nature of right and wrong.

"Not to broach the subject would be missing out on an enormous educational opportunity about life."

Educational psychologist Patricia McCaffrey added: "This is such a huge event that there are no frames of reference and children need to be able to talk through it.

"It may be useful to explain what sorts of things may have led to such a tragedy by discussing issues such as the balance of power in the world, and how this makes some people feel."

Child development expert Judith Myers-Walls of Purdue University in Indiana believes that primary school children could benefit from learning about where the attacks happened in relation to where they live and should express any anxieties through painting, drawing or music.

Judith Myers-Walls' guidelines for adults on how to deal with children's questions about terrorism are available on the internet at

International, 20 Leader, 24

Subscribe to get access to the content on this page.

If you are already a Tes/ Tes Scotland subscriber please log in with your username or email address to get full access to our back issues, CPD library and membership plus page.

Not a subscriber? Find out more about our subscription offers.
Subscribe now
Existing subscriber?
Enter subscription number


The guide by your side – ensuring you are always up to date with the latest in education.

Get Tes magazine online and delivered to your door. Stay up to date with the latest research, teacher innovation and insight, plus classroom tips and techniques with a Tes magazine subscription.
With a Tes magazine subscription you get exclusive access to our CPD library. Including our New Teachers’ special for NQTS, Ed Tech, How to Get a Job, Trip Planner, Ed Biz Special and all Tes back issues.

Subscribe now