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Winter 2002


Talking to children when talking gets tough
By Olivia Maddox

 

Image: Judy Myers-Walls

Judith Myers-Walls, a Purdue
Extension specialist in child development and family studies,
offered advice for helping children
cope with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. (Photo by Tom Campbell)

When terrorists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, adults not only struggled to understand it, they struggled with what to tell their children.

After watching some of the first news reports of the attacks on television, like scores of other Americans, Judith Myers-Walls, Purdue Extension specialist in child development and family studies, felt that she had to do something to help.

What began that morning as a fact sheet, "Talking with Children when the Talking Gets Tough," e-mailed to Extension educators and other professionals was a multi-media Web site, "Terrorism and Children," by mid-afternoon. "We knew that children were going to be home by three in the afternoon, and we wanted to have information available by then," says Myers-Walls, who has been researching children's reactions to war and peace for more than a decade. She previously had put together materials to help parents talk with children during difficult times, such as the Columbine school shootings in 1999, the Space Shuttle Challenger accident in 1986 and even the death of Muppets' creator Jim Henson in 1990.

Created with assistance from Purdue's Department of Agricultural Communication, the Web site included a fact sheet, information about talking to children of different ages, and links to other information. Video and audio clips for broadcast media were also included.

News of the Web site, which was announced by e-mail, spread by electronic "word of mouth" as recipients forwarded the information to yet other e-mail lists.

The day after the attacks, nearly 7,000 visitors had accessed the Web site. By the end of the second week, more than 31,000 had logged on to the site.

As news of the Web site circled the globe so did requests to use the materials. Extension educators around the United States, including New York, used the materials, as did schools and churches both here and abroad. Myers-Walls did interviews with national and international media, including ABC News, National Public Radio, "USA Today" and the "Boston Globe," as well as with media in Australia, India, Hong Kong, Germany and Great Britain. "The attacks didn't just affect the United States," she says. "Everybody felt threatened."

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