Grief is like pain. Either we pay attention to it and try...

Coping/Mortal Matters

February 25, 1991|By Sara Engram | Sara Engram,Universal Press Syndicate

Grief is like pain. Either we pay attention to it and try to heal it, or we anesthetize it - often with bad results.

That's the wise approach of the National Childhood Grief Institute in Minneapolis, founded in 1988 as a national center providing resources for children to help them cope with the grief and trauma that follows a death or divorce.

These days, there's another source of trauma for children - a Mideast war involving half a million Americans, many of them the mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, uncles or aunts of bewildered and frightened children. For these children, the war has brought a temporary separation from adults they love, with the potential of that separation becoming permanent.

To its credit, the institute quickly rose to the task of ministering to the thousands of children affected by Operation Desert Storm. The result is a workbook that can be as useful to children of men and women deployed to Saudi Arabia as to those whose main connection to the conflict is the constant war talk pervading radio, television, newspapers or even their parents' conversations.

The workbook is called "My Desert Storm." A subtitle describes it "first aid for feelings," especially the scary feelings war creates of being vulnerable and of losing control of your life.

Children have a special need for comfort during scary times. After all, they are dependent on adults to provide protection, shelter, food, comfort and the reassurance that even in dark times it's possible to hope for and have faith in a good outcome.

That puts a big responsibility on adults, since during times of crisis or stress, it's sometimes all they can do to keep up with the daily routine. But that's important to do. Routines give each day a rhythm and predictability that can provide an important form of security.

Beyond physical needs, emotional comfort and reassurance - first aid for feelings - is also important, especially in scary times. But the reassurance needs to be more than empty words or a one-way lecture to a child. Real comfort comes when children feel safe enough to express their fears - fears for their own safety, for the safety of someone they know in Saudi Arabia and even for the safety and well-being of children in Iraq.

The workbook is structured in a way that helps both children and adults to get to this point.

The first section gives children a chance to express what they know about the war - where it is taking place, what war means and why this one started. These exercises can give parents an idea of just how much their children understand of what they hear.

The workbook also gives children a chance to express their own feelings about the war, with such exercises as drawing pictures of the way they think war looks, or filling in blank faces with the many different feelings they might have when they think about war.

It also helps them think about people they can talk to about their feelings, and helps them draw up an "action plan" for those times when they feel scared, worried, angry, sad or even happy.

Finally, the workbook provides ways for children to fell less helpless by writing letters to President Bush, Saddam Hussein or to a service member in the gulf.

The 22-page workbook is attractively designed and comes with a packet of helpful information and advice for parents and caretakers.

"My Desert Storm" workbooks can be ordered from the National Childhood Grief Institute, 3300 Edinborough Way, Suite 512, Edina, Minn. 55435. Each workbook costs $10.95, and there is a $3 charge for shipping and handling. For information about bulk rates, call the center at (612) 832-9286.

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