Left to right: Dr. Joseph Geliebter, Executive
Director of Comprehensive Network, Inc.
Dr. Rona Novak of LIJ, Leah Schlager, Dir.
of Professional Services.
the events of September 11
through play is completely
normal and even beneficial.
She explained that while all of us want
our children to empathize with the suffer-
ing of others, emphasizing only the horrific
aspects of traumatic events is damaging.
According to Novak, growing up is not
easy. Its especially hard to do if youre al-
ways looking over your shoulder and wor-
rying about impending doom.
In order for our children to grow up
healthy, we need to point out to them that
there are positive aspects to traumas. In the
case of 9/11, we can focus on miraculous
escapes experienced by people we know
and the fact that our families are able to be
Addressing the differences in the way
adults and children react to tragedy, she
pointed out that while adults become sad,
children often become irritated and even
belligerent. These feelings can lead to in-
creased stress at home and affect perfor-
mance in school. She reassured parents that
re-enacting the events of September 11
through play is completely normal and even
beneficial. If you watch kids playing out
the events of 9/11, youll see that there is
always a happy ending, said Novak. The
fish sticks or Legos standing in for the twin
towers become stronger and magical men
come in to divert the airplanes, she con-
tinued. Novak explained that since play is
the one area where kids can exercise con-
trol and manipulate the end result, it is the
healthiest way to work out trauma issues.
Dr. Joseph Geliebter, clinical psycholo-
gist and executive director of Comprehen-
sive Outreach, commented, As child
therapists, we are trained to use play for
younger children as the primary modality
for expression of their thoughts and feel-
ings. When young children observe trau-
matic events, they often re-enact in their
play the themes of their trauma, thereby
gaining a measure of control.
The following are some simple but posi-
Recognize that parents are role mod-
els. Children take their cues from parents
in terms of how to react. If parents become
glued to the TV news or nervous about
traveling anywhere, children will act the
same way. Adopt a cautious, but calm ap-
proach. Parents can teach their children
that while we care about the tragedys vic-
tims, we must continue living our lives.
Teach and inform. Dont let children
operate under misconceptions that may lead
to fears that are not grounded in reality.
Be a source of comfort. While no one
can guarantee that he or she will live for-
ever, offer the reassurance that as long as
you are alive, you will do everything pos-
sible to take care of them and keep them
Spend time with the kids. In the after-
math of trauma, every child can benefit
from more physical contact and the emo-
tional connection that comes from heart-
Offer suggestions for positive actions
children can take to help the families of
those who died in the World Trade Center.
Saving allowance and sending a check to
the American Red Cross or writing letters
to firemen thanking them for their efforts
are ways that children can make a differ-
ence and take control.
Novak concluded by encouraging par-
ents to talk out their own feelings with
friends or colleagues. She explained that
trauma leaves debris in the brain that needs
to be cleared out before victims can heal.
Talking to friends or a professional thera-
pists may be necessary in order to move on
and begin to cope with the horrors experi-
enced personally or vicariously by all of us.
In 1993, Comprehensive developed a
special program entitled Feeling Safe
Again offered to survivors following the
1993 WTC bombing. Comprehensive Out-
reach has updated the program, making it
applicable for professional staff develop-
ment, parenting and student workshops
and specialized counseling and consulta-
Recently, a special federal WTC Disas-
ter grant has been made available to all
schools to deal with the aftermath of Sep-
tember 11th. BiNet Inc./Comprehensive
Outreach is approved by the New York City
Board of Education to provide these and
other services in all NYC schools.
To learn more about the services and
workshops, call 718-339-9700, ext. 290
or 718-339-3379, ext. 232.
ts been six months since Septem-
ber 11, yet most families in the New
York area are still struggling with
the emotional fallout of the World Trade
Center tragedy. What do you do when your
pre-schooler is having nightmares and your
six-year-olds new vocabulary include the
words terrorism and Taliban? In a spe-
cial workshop co-sponsored by BiNet, Inc.
/ Comprehensive Network , entitled Coping
with the Aftermath of September 11; Dr. Rona
Novak, a child and adolescent psychologist
at LIJ, discussed how to balance the desire
to raise socially-conscious children with
the need to provide them a safe haven.
Photo by Ivan Norman