Talking to children when talking gets
By Olivia Maddox
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
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
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."