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THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT <br> THANKS TO GOOD PARENTING, YOUNGSTERS ARE COPING CAPABLY WITH THE GLOBAL CRISIS, EDUCATORS SAY

It's an unprecedented set of circumstances that challenges even the most stable and positive adults among us.

We've lived through the obscenity now known as Sept. 11. American men and women are fighting a dangerous overseas war of indeterminate length and breadth. And here in the homeland, new threats and tensions seem to crop up every news cycle.

So, how are our kids doing?

We decided to figuratively lick a finger and stick it in the air, seeing which way the winds blow.

So we called several Western New York area school counseling personnel for their take on how pupils are handling life after 9/1 1.

Have schools seen a spike in problems? Are kids upset, crying in the classroom, having nightmares at home? How are schools assisting kids who do need help? And are parents doing a good job, helping their kids to cope?

Good news, folks. The kids are OK, and schools largely credit the parents.

"Our kids are doing remarkably well," reports Catherine Raiff, junior and senior high school psychologist for Cheektowaga Central Schools. "They are quite calm and focused on their lives and what they need to do.

"That first week (after Sept. 11), there was a lot of lively discussion. Now they seem to be saying, "Our government is taking care of this, and now I need to study for the SATs and think about my Friday night activities.' "

She was surprised that students in her schools, who range in age from 11 to 19, were not more distraught. "I knew it would die down fast, because kids are focused on their own lives. But I was surprised how fast it died down. They are resilient.

"It's like when parents are getting divorced; kids' questions center around themselves, how will their lives change. They need to be reassured that they are loved and safe."

Raiff added that "one thing we have noticed is that our handful of dysfunctional kids seem to be worse, although their concerns are still about themselves and their lives. But perhaps they see this as one more part of life that's out of control."

Hamburg Central School psychologist Amy Hartz hasn't seen a downturn in students' moods.

"It's been the same amount of referrals for the usual things," she said. "Nobody has been shocked into behaving better, either; I haven't seen a change either way. I haven't gotten even one call from a parent concerned about this."

The morning after the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, Hartz visited a fourth-grade classroom. "It was not somber; the students were excited, in a removed way, like it was a video game or a movie. But when the school announcements came on, and we said the Pledge of Allegiance and sang a patriotic song, they seemed to sing louder. There was no mumbling at all."

Hartz said that informed parents are the biggest reason kids aren't having a tougher time dealing with their country in crisis.

"Good advice on how to talk to your kids got out there quickly, on programs like the 'Today Show.' I would like to think kids are doing well because parents are doing a pretty good job explaining the unexplainable.

"We're having this war, and it's on TV -- that may make it a more approachable subject for parents and kids. And it has remained on TV, with all those opportunities to keep talking about it. Parents need to keep talking with their kids, to prevent kids' imaginations from running wild."

At Trinity Lutheran Elementary School in West Seneca, principal Brian Makey said, "the students do talk about it. We've discussed it right from the start. We had a prayer at lunchtime on Sept. 11.

"We discuss our country's response, should it be revenge or justice. It comes up more in religion and social studies classes."

Linda Wallensky, Clarence Central School District social worker for kindergarten through eighth grade, is also in private practice with Kenmore Counseling Group. She is positive, but sounds a note of caution.

"The children are doing fine because all the adults are managing things around them. But I see an underlying anxiety (in adults), a post-traumatic stress that is affecting the whole country. It isn't fear -- fear is more specific. This is free-floating anxiety," Wallensky said.

"I see it in the adults, and if you see it in adults, you need to be aware that it could be present in the kids, even if it isn't manifesting itself because of the good job that teachers and parents are doing.

"Schools are working diligently to make sure that kids have outlets for these feelings. We've promoted workshops to talk about it, and assemblies, and drives to raise money -- all kinds of ways for the kids to cope with feelings."

She says professionals and parents should neither overreact, nor underreact.

"We just have to take it case by case, situation by situation. because I don't know what it's going to mean in the long run, or even in the short run."

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