Children and 9/11: Art Helping Kids Heal

Lara Suziedelis Bogle
for National Geographic News
September 10, 2002

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At the one-year anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, two organizations that help children cope with trauma are presenting art made by young people in the days and months after the tragedy.

Going on display this week in New York City is "The Day Our World Changed: Children's Art of 9/11," a joint project of New York University's Child Study Center and the Museum of the City of New York. Also this week, the Psychological Trauma Center, an affiliate of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, is presenting an exhibit of artwork by area schoolchildren, "9-11–Through the Eyes of Children."

The artworks are a testament to the fear, anger, resilience, courage, and hope of the child artists, many of whom witnessed the violent events firsthand.

Roxy Szeftel, director of child psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said drawing and painting helps young people convey complex feelings because "kids have a natural way of expressing themselves through play."

Expressing appropriate feelings is difficult for everyone, and more so for children because they usually have had less experience with tragedy and other bad experiences, Szeftel explained.

Encouraging children to draw, and then gently asking them questions about their art, sometimes brings out feelings they have been unable or reluctant to put into words.

"What we find is that children tend to draw the part of the trauma they don't understand—the part they're 'stuck' on," said Suzanne Silverstein, president and co-founder of the Psychological Trauma Center at Cedars-Sinai. "Like adults, sometimes what they're saying is not what they're feeling. When they draw, they put it all out on paper."

Different Ways of Coping

Silverstein, a registered art therapist, has been working with kids in the Los Angeles area since 1994, after several disasters—fires and a major earthquake—ravaged Southern California. She and her colleagues visited schools to help kids manage their fear and anxiety.

The program was later expanded to address students' response to other traumas many of them face regularly, such as domestic violence and drug-related shootings.

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