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Keeping a Child Safe From Snipers

One mother tries to explain a scary world to her young son

THURSDAY, Oct. 18, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- My 7-year-old son goes to a school that now locks all its doors every morning because of the serial sniper who has targeted 11 people in the past 15 days in communities near where we live.

So his question the other night was inevitable, though its specificity was a surprise.

"Mommy, tell me 10 reasons why I'm safe."

It was a question I knew I should take my time to answer. I'd like to say it was a strange request from my son -- something that's a long way from monsters hiding under the bed -- but the events of 9/11 raised similar fears in his mind a year ago.

We live in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., where public schools have been forced to seal students inside all day. This way, parents can trust that their children won't be caught in the sights of the sniper's rifle. There are no outside recesses after lunch, no gym classes during warm fall afternoons, no soccer games on crisp Saturday mornings. When these children do leave their classrooms every afternoon, they see police cruisers lined up alongside their school buses. While riding home, they try to explain to each other what is happening, using words like "freaky" and "weirdo" and "crazy man." Even the youngest ones are starting to wonder if the world really is a peaceful place.

It turns out that my son is no exception.

Before I launched into the daunting task of showing him why the world really isn't as terrifying as it seems, I told him that our fear makes this madman feel powerful. If we let him make us afraid, I told my child, we let him steal our lives in a different way.

That said, I started the list with the most obvious lie -- and scrambled for the rest:

  • 1. Mommy and Daddy will make sure you're safe. Mommy is like a lioness, and she will do everything in her power to protect you. We have never let anything bad happen to you before, and we won't now.
  • 2. Your school is tucked away in a neighborhood the sniper can't find. It's not next to a big highway, and there's only one way out. The policemen are only there because they're being extra smart and extra careful. School is as safe as home right now.
  • 3. As a family, we're being careful about going to gas stations and shopping centers, especially at night and in the morning. That way, we're not in as much danger.
  • 4. We watch for white vans when we do drive on the roads, and Mommy tries to stay away from those. If you do see a white van and it scares you, you can lay down in the seat to be safe and Mommy will be the lookout.
  • 5. Mommy and Daddy are keeping track of the news so we can do the safest things possible for you.
  • 6. Mommy waits outside for you when you come home on the bus, and she looks around the neighborhood before you arrive to make sure it's safe.
  • 7. Lots of people are looking around now, and they're helping police with information to catch this sick man. Some people have already seen the sniper and some have seen the license plates on his white van. That will give the police clues to find him.
  • 8. All the police from different cities and counties are working together to catch this man, and even the U.S. military has lent special planes to the police that will help them spot the sniper quickly if he shoots his rifle. All these trained officers are bound to capture this bad man.
  • 9. This man is very sick, and he's getting sloppy. Each time he shoots at someone, he takes more risks. So he will get caught. It's just a matter of time. And once he is in jail, he can't hurt anyone anymore.

I struggled for a 10th reason why my child could finally close his eyes and go to sleep. I never came up with one.

But his next question told me that perhaps he has left the carefree land of childhood forever:

"Mommy, I need 15 reasons why I'm safe."

What To Do

To help your child deal with crisis, go to the American Psychological Association or the American Red Cross.

SOURCE: Robin Foster is an editor for HealthScoutNews.
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