Country At War

During this difficult time, Dr. Phil offers advice on talking to our children about war, and how we can all cope in the days ahead.

Q: What should we say to our kids?
A: I have two rules that are important to embrace when dealing with children. First, never ask them to deal with adult issues. Number two, don't ever allow them to feel responsible for things over which they have no influence and control. With something such as war and international conflict, both these rules apply.

You absolutely have to be age appropriate. The war is highly irrelevant to young children ages 4, 5, 6 or 7. It is not even something they can get their minds around. Don't make it relevant when it's not. Don't feel like as a good parent you need to sit down and talk about it. But if they've seen images on TV and have questions, you need to answer them in an age-appropriate manner. For example, explain things in terms of good and evil. Tell them that there are some bad people in the world who are really hurting their neighbors, and those of us in America feel like we need to stop it.

Q: Is it OK to let kids watch the news?
Be careful to not let them see too many of the images. After 9/11, a lot of children thought that every time they saw a replay of one of the towers being knocked down, that a new building was being destroyed. Be very limited in what you let them watch on TV. If you let them watch, watch it with them. Ask them if they have any questions. As you get into early adolescence and high school, they may have more interest in watching. Let's face it, they've watched these things in Die Hard and Terminator movies, and now here it is for real. It may have some entertainment value for them at the older ages, so make sure they understand that there are people impacted by this, and that we don't take it lightly. Ask them their opinions. Solicit questions and answer them in an age-appropriate way.

The best way to make sure children don't become obsessed with watching the news, is to make sure that we don't. It's easy to become addicted to this, and children can get into information-overload very quickly. We must maintain balance. If you're letting them watch the news, watch with them, limit what they watch, and require them to do other things. Keep balance so they don't become obsessed or overwhelmed by the nature of what's going on.

Q: What can adults do to better cope?
A: There are some rules to follow during this stressful time. Number one, keep this in perspective. Sometimes we get so focused on the events of war, that we forget the sky is blue, the sun is coming up, that there are children playing. We need to keep it in perspective. Balance is very important. Don't become addicted to the television.

Secondly, think through this philosophically and get at peace with where you are on these issues. It sometimes helps to focus on the upsides of this, and realize what's going to happen when this country is liberated, if that's that the way you feel.

Thirdly, if there's something you can do affirmatively, whether it's to write to a congressmen or write to a newspaper to express your views, send something. Take some action where you can feel that your frustration is lessened.

Remember that this is a time-limited situation. This will be over, probably sooner than later. You're not going to have to live in this limbo state with our troops in harm's way forever and ever. I say that to the families, including mine, that have men and women over there bravely representing our country. There is an end to this. They will come home. Cling to the fact that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

We need to be alert. We need to be vigilant. We need to have a plan to report things that don't look right to us. We need a contingency plan should something happen in our community, and we need a reasonable approach to having some supplies. But we should not become obsessed with it, and it should not dominate our lives to the point of paralysis. I think what we have to remember is that we stand for things in America that are good and right — the freedoms that are important and a way of life that we can't take for granted. Be thoughtful about where you go and what you do, but do not become obsessed.

Q: How can families with loved one overseas cope?

A: My sister's son is stationed in the Persian Gulf. What you do is you have confidence in his training, acceptance of his conviction that this is something that he feels good about doing, and you support the troops. One of the ways to overcome fear, or when you feel like you've got a hole in your heart, is to fill it up by giving to others. Talk about it with your neighbors or someone else who may have someone in harm's way. I've maintained a regular dialogue with my sister. America needs to know that the troops that are over there are convicted, they are confident, well-trained, and they believe they're doing the right thing. That give us confidence.

Q: What can we do when we feel helpless?
A: We do have terrorist threats against us right now. We know that there are people who'd love to distinguish themselves with some ridiculous acts. Be alert. Be thoughtful about where you go and what you do. Keep the troops in our thoughts and prayers, and remember that there will be an opportunity to rebuild the country that is being liberated right now.

Q: How can we get through this?
The reality is that our way of life has changed. The truth is that we are dealing now with what many countries around the world have dealt with for generations. The Israelis have lived with this for years and years. You make your adjustments, you change your lifestyle, but you get through it. You continue to put one foot in front of the other. Is it good to live with threat? Is it good to live with danger? Of course not, but that is the reality. I've always said that I'm going to spend about 5 percent deciding whether something is a good deal or bad deal, fair or unfair, and about 95 percent deciding what I'm going to do about it. Fair deal or otherwise, it's the only deal we have right now. Our country is the object of hatred by what I believe are a lot of irrational people who wish us harm. That's the truth right now. We adjust our way of life and we learn to live with it. We'll get through it. The truth is, we are a very resilient nation. We get through these things because we're on the right side and we're strong in character. The idea is to not become depressed over reality. Things are changing, but we'll deal with it.