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Behavioral Emergencies Update

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The 109th Annual APA Convention


Awards Presented

Minutes from the Section 7 Business Meeting

Helping Youth Cope with Terrorism

Task Force Update

Graduate Student Spotlight

Publication Highlights

Special Offer for Section VII Members



Helping Youth to Cope with Terrorism

By Julie Boergers, Ph.D., Brown Medical School

     While we all struggled with our immediate personal reactions to the tragic events of September 11th, Dr. Phil Kleespies called APA on behalf of Section VII to offer our collective expertise in responding to the disaster. Although they were deluged with offers of assistance at that point, they provided us with the Practice Directorate’s materials for psychologists that could be utilized in responding to youth and the general public. This information was put out on our listserve, and can be accessed at

As concerns about anthrax and the possibility of other terrorist attacks continue, clinicians who work with children have noted that many continue to show evidence of an adverse reaction to these events. Children’s reactions to traumatic events may manifest differently than adult reactions. In addition to trauma symptoms commonly seen in adults, children’s symptoms may include separation anxiety, irritability, hyperactivity, sleep disruption, fear of seemingly routine events (such as going to school), and difficulty tolerating unfamiliar situations. Some children may exhibit regressive behaviors, or may re-enact their anxieties through play. On the other hand, some children may have difficulty understanding that these tragedies have a real human cost, and may seem “numbed” either by the repetitive news reports or by overexposure to violent movies and video games.

Research conducted after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing indicated that even children who were geographically distant from the explosion and who did not personally know any of the victims were vulnerable to PTSD symptoms two years after the bombing (Pfefferbaum et al., 2000). Children with “indirect” personal exposure (i.e., having a friend or family member who knew a victim) and those with higher levels of media exposure had higher levels of PTSD symptomatology. Thus, given the sheer magnitude of the September 11th tragedies and the unprecedented media saturation, it is likely that clinicians across the country will continue to see PTSD symptoms in children for some time to come.

Children tend to ask tough questions about terrorism and the tragedies, and clinicians are often asked what parents can do to help their children cope with recent events. Children should be given opportunities at home and at school to talk about their reactions. Younger children are likely to benefit from play and nonverbal outlets for expression, such as drawing. Parents should be honest with their children about world events, but should tailor the amount and content of information to their child’s age and temperament. In particular, young children’s exposure to media should be limited. When parents do choose to let their children see news programs about the tragedy, they should ideally watch these programs together, in order to help to debrief their children afterward. Children will continue to need extra reassurance that they are loved, that their family is okay and that adults are working hard to keep them safe. The maintenance of family routines is of paramount importance during uncertain times. During times such as these, children count on routines and rituals to reassure them of their safety and security. Parents can also help by managing their own anxiety. Finally, parents should be educated about the warning signs of PTSD.

A list of websites providing resources on coping with traumatic events can be found on the APA website at Additional resources focusing on terrorism and children can be found at the following links:


Pfefferbaum, B., Seale, T.W., McDonald, N.B., Brandt, E.N., Rainwater, S.M., Maynard, B.T., Meierhoefer, B., & Miller, P.D. (2000). Posttraumatic stress two years after the Oklahoma City bombing in youths geographically distant from the explosion. Psychiatry, 63, 358-370.