Thursday, November 27, 2008 will stay etched in 10-year-old Mohit Arvind’s mind for a long time to come. Early in the morning, he had been told his school was closed for the day. Unlike many of his peers, Mohit didn’t rejoice at the prospect of an unexpected holiday.
Instead, he spent the entire day glued to the television set and watched with horror as the events unfolded at the Oberoi, the Taj, and Nariman House — all a stone’s throw from where he lives. As the commandoes and the police toiled through Friday, November 28, to flush out the terrorists, Mohit’s fear only increased.
“For two days after that, Mohit refused to step out of the house. He kept asking me, ‘do you think this will happen again?’,” says Mohit’s mother Madhvi Bariya. “It took a lot of time to assure him that these events don’t happen every day.”
“My most important concern was to separate religion from these attacks. I told him that those terrorists were people who did bad things that they thought were right,” she adds.
Once school started and Mohit got back to his normal routine, he began feeling much better. But convincing him to get back to normal wasn’t an easy task. “I told him that by staying in bed and getting scared, he’s doing exactly what the terrorists want us to do — feel terrorised.”
Talk to your children
Experts advise that a child’s fear after the attacks shouldn’t be dismissed and it is natural for him/her to feel anger, fear and helplessness. Some may even valorise the terrorists. According to psychiatrist Dr Anjali Chhabria, today’s children are not only well-informed but also very sensitive to things that are happening around them. In such a situation, she points out, it is all the more important that parents help them analyse all the information they have access to. At the same time, parents must also exercise caution about how much they tell their children.
Encouraging children to discuss and debate will help them come up with solutions and allay their fears. When done with a well-informed adult, it will also ensure that they are not prey to wrong information and misconceptions held by their peers.
“Parents need to help their children come up with creative and innovative ways to cope with this situation — they can give a part of their pocket money to helping the victims, for instance,” says Chhabria. Inform them of the various groups and organisations that have been floated online to combat terrorism. Let them know that there is no cause to feel helpless.”
“At the same time, don’t make this a daily discussion. It is important for children to come back to their normal routine — school, play, extra curricular activities,” she adds.
Learning at school
“I feel that kids are still confused about who terrorists are,” says Deepika Aggarwal, a teacher of junior classes at JBCN PAN Academy in Lower Parel, a school for children with learning difficulties. To make them more aware, I did a project with them that discussed the different instances of terrorism across the world, and which groups have been involved. I also made them aware about emergency help line numbers, so that they can think faster if ever faced with an emergency.”
Dr Zirak Marker, child psychiatrist and psychotherapist, and director of JBCN PAN Academy says, “It is important to tell the children that terrorism stems from hatred. We must provide them other related facts so that they understand it is a world issue.”
“There are a lot of questions in their mind,” says Vishal Asrani, a theatre teacher for Trinity College, London, who holds classes for children from the age group of six to 15. To teach the younger ones about religious tolerance, he used
a simple analogy. “I took the example of an actor like Hrithik Roshan and told them that while Hrithik may have different names in different movies, at the end of the day, he is still Hrithik. So it is with God, who may have different names, but is still the same force. And God doesn’t want people to kill each other. Terrorists have only been taught that from a very young age.”
The older children are mainly concerned for their parents’ security, Asrani points out. “Ultimately, we have come to a point where we have to teach a child how to deal with someone with a gun. At the same time, we need to rebuild their sense of security,” says Asrani, reflecting on the dilemma that teachers like him are facing.
“Basically, we have to pass on very simple messages to our kids,” says Chhabria. “No religion allows acts of terror. Valorise the policemen who are doing their best to protect us. And while it is OK to be afraid, it is more important to act and think positively.”
And, as Asrani points out, the most important lesson for them is to stand united and not give in to hatred.