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Parents Blog

Susan Boyd blogs on every Monday. A dedicated mother and wife, Susan offers a truly unique perspective into the world of a "Soccer Mom." 
Opinions expressed on the US Youth Soccer Blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of US Youth Soccer.


Meeting the Costs

Susan Boyd

Despite soccer being a simple game requiring little equipment, it has morphed into a rather expensive sport. When our kids are under ten we can get by with minimal costs. Most soccer shops will offer inexpensive packages of cleats, shin guards and ball for around $50, but those costs quickly spiral into double and triple the amount as kids get older. The costs for training escalate depending on the type of club team your child plays for.  The further up the skill level our children travel the higher the costs rise. If you change clubs you’ll have to change uniforms which often include a number of peripheral items such as warm-ups and soccer bags. Utilitarian cleats give way to high end boots which are specialized to playing position and ironically cost more the lighter they become. Apparently removing materials somehow increases manufacturing costs. Naturally the more players become advanced the more they have to travel to find equal or stronger competition, so those costs need to be added to uniforms, cleats, training and ancillary equipment. Some clubs will include fees for coaches’ travel in the club dues, but other clubs will ask every family to contribute an amount each trip. The final financial insult comes if your family decides to travel with your child.

What began as a simple $100 to $200 yearly expense can suddenly explode to 20 times that amount. It’s a subtle increase at first, and then before we know it we’re writing checks in rapid succession being rushed along a money trail with no stops and no exits. So how do we pay for this?  Some people may be lucky enough to absorb the costs, but most people will need a plan to handle the assault to their finances. There’s several ways to make this work, but we have to be proactive and definitely not shy about pursuing possibilities that ease the burden.

Many clubs have financial plans for families. These may be in the form of scholarships, payment plans and substituting volunteer hours for fees. My main advice is to not be shy about asking. We may feel embarrassed to seek help, but you’d be surprised how many families can’t handle the expenses without some assistance, especially if they have multiple players in the family. So call the club treasurer or president prior to try-outs to discover how the organization handles paying fees. Don’t be afraid that your questions will somehow interfere with your child being selected. Clubs understand that they need the best players to have a winning record to attract more top players and significantly more paying families. So they are usually happy to work out payments without putting parents on the spot or dismissing their children because they might not pay up all at once. Clubs make money from their fees, but a big money maker for most clubs are tournaments, which require a huge number of volunteers to make them run smoothly and be attractive to the best teams to enter. Clubs will generally have a volunteer requirement which must be met to be a member, but those requirements often barely meet the minimum needs for tournament personnel. So clubs will also offer a reduction in club fees for extra volunteer work. Bruce agreed to help mow the fields once a week in return for lowered fees in our case. A club may also offer scholarships in return for significant continual volunteering such as painting lines weekly, running concessions, cleaning bathrooms and clubhouses, etc. It actually makes good financial sense for the club who would pay far more to hire people to do these jobs than they give in fee credits. Occasionally clubs will have a fund raising event and give credits on dues if a family reaches certain fund raising goals.

It’s not unfair to ask our children to help out with these fees. They may appreciate the opportunities offered to them more if they have a financial stake in the outcomes. Kids can earn a referee license at age 12 to oversee U6 to U10 games with a minimal amount of training offered through your state referee association. The fees they earn aren’t significant, but if they work two or three games a weekend they can earn $30 to $40. After a month they’ve covered the cost of a uniform. They can continue to earn more advanced referee qualifications which leads to higher pay. As they get older they can also earn a coaching certificate. By earning a “D” license Bryce netted a fair amount of money in high school giving private goal keeping clinics to young kids in the club. If you live in a city or near a city with a professional or college team, they will probably run summer camps and require teen counselors. Kids can make several hundred dollars over the season depending on how many camps they work. The place we spend a lot of money is the local soccer store, so once kids reach employable age, usually 15 or 16 in most states, they should apply to work at the store. Not only can they make money, but they will also benefit from employee discounts to help defray costs.

I ended up getting a second job to help pay for the boys. I was lucky enough to get a job in soccer first as the administrator of Bryce and Robbie’s soccer club and then with the Wisconsin Youth Soccer Association Olympic Development program. The pay wasn’t great, but it was enough to help out with our travel expenses, allowing us to go as a family to most away tournaments.  Some parents in our club took part-time jobs at places like the Hallmark store or the local grocery to earn just enough to cover expenses associated with select soccer.

There are actually scholarships out there to cover costs for soccer players. Most are sponsored by the clubs themselves. An internet search with the keywords “scholarships for soccer club fees” produced information and applications for scores of club teams. Adding a regional keyword like your city or your state should help narrow the search. Locating a club which offers financial assistance can help a family locate the most financially responsible options for try-outs. Additionally many of the ethnic clubs underwrite their select teams so that club fees can be more on the youth recreational level rather than the stratosphere of most select clubs.  When Bryce played for United Serbians, our fees for the year were only $150 which included coaching and uniforms. We paid extra for tournaments and travel. Occasionally clubs can apply for community grants to provide scholarships for their players. Checking those out and writing up a grant for your club could end up returning big dividends.

Generally scholarships only cover training fees and not travel, so families need to find ways to afford those costs. There’s economy in numbers. We parents need to help one another out by sharing the expenses. Players can travel with other players and share hotel rooms. We usually had at least two other teammates with us on every trip. Putting three or four boys in one room greatly reduced the costs for families and “car-pooling” to tournaments saved many families from the expensive costs of driving just their own child to an event. The team can get together for meals and order pizzas to eat in the lobby or sub sandwiches between games, reducing the food costs substantially. Even better a group of parents might grocery shop and buy the makings for sandwiches once arriving at the tournament. Getting bulk sports drinks from a big box store also saves money.  If a team must fly, have a parent coordinate a group rate for the team. This can be a substantial savings over regular airfares. Groups can be as small as ten, so a soccer team would certainly qualify for these special rates. Arranging for 15 passenger vans when you land is often far less expensive than every family renting separate vehicles.   These large vans are also good for those longer road trips saving on transportation costs.

Finally soccer equipment can be very expensive, especially with the quarterly release of the latest professional soccer player sponsored cleats. However, if you need to keep costs down you can turn to organizations like Goodwill and Salvation Army who generally have a rather large selection of soccer boots. They won’t be the fanciest pair around, but they’ll grip the turf just as well. I would avoid used shin guards as there are concerns about fungus. But you can get relatively inexpensive shin guards at stores like Wal-Mart, Dick’s or Sports Authority. You don’t need the FIFA or MLS branded pair. Clubs can help expenses by sticking with the same uniform for as long as possible. Every fall they can sponsor a uniform exchange where players who have outgrown their kit can pass it down to younger players. Old numbers can be removed and changed at the local soccer store for a nominal fee, so no need to worry in that regard. The exchanges could also include balls, goalie gloves, warm-ups, and bags. There’s no need to break the bank to be outfitted to play.

My friends with kids who play hockey and football have far greater equipment costs than we ever did. In fact, when I saw what the gear for a hockey goalie cost I quickly maneuvered my boys away from the sport. Overall progressing in any sport translates into more costs. If a player is passionate, it’s difficult to ask him or her to give up the game. Therefore we parents have to find a way to pay for it all. My one caveat is to caution against expecting to “recoup” the costs through a college scholarship. You’d be better off putting all the money you spend on soccer into a college savings program. That’s not to say kids won’t earn scholarships – many will – but the reality of these scholarships is that they won’t cover tuition much less room, board, books, and incidentals. And if your player attends a private school or an out-of-state institution then the scholarships will often make just a puny dent in the expenses. In reality we all need to decide what we can comfortably afford, and then we need to stick to that budget. It may mean choosing a less “successful” club to make some savings. Don’t worry about that. Top soccer players have come from all types of clubs and programs. Ultimately it is the individual player’s determination, skill and attitude that dictates how far he or she will go and not how loose a parent’s purse strings are.

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A Brief History of Soccer

Susan Boyd

A Brief History of Soccer

This sport our children play preceded them by at least 2,000 years,  and some historians say 3000 years. Historical evidence of “kick ball” has appeared independently in dozens of geographic areas that had no economic, political or religious overlaps. It has survived wars, pestilence, political upheaval, famine, drought and innumerable natural disasters. Only wrestling possibly predates this sport, which like wrestling is a relatively simple with minimal equipment needs. Given that soccer isn’t complex, it’s really not so remarkable that it developed early in so many cultures across a variety of topographies and lasted so long.

Evidence of soccer can be found in the archeology and recorded histories of China, Japan, Egypt, Greece, Meso-America and Australia. The earliest documentation of football was found in images on the Egyptian tomb of Baqet III (2500 B.C.E.) which depict young girls kicking around a ball. Generally the advent of any sport can be traced to the training of a country’s military. In Japan circa 1000 B.C.E. a game called Kemari arose to train soldiers’ agility and battle tactics. A field formed by four trees at the corners (cherry, maple, pine and willow) contained a contest played with teams of two to 12 players kicking a ball filled with sawdust. The first evidence of soccer in China appeared during the Tsin Dynasty (255-206 BC) with a game called Tsu-Chu, which literally translates as “kick ball”, which was played by soldiers who had to maneuver a leather ball through opponents into a small hole in a net strung between two poles. Amazingly, the first “international” football competition can be traced to a Kemari team playing against a Tsu-Chu team in 50 B.C.E. In some countries play also included the use of hands, which was true in Rome with the game Harpastum where combatants attempted to possess the ball as long as possible by playing “keep away” rather than driving down to a goal. The Greeks had a game called Episkyros which more closely resembled rugby but involved far more foot control. Native American tribes Algonquin and Powhatan played a game called Pasuckuakohowog, which translates as “they gather to play ball with the feet”. The game was played on the beach with goals a mile apart and teams of up to 100. It’s believed that the Pilgrims participated as part of befriending the tribes. Indigenous people of Australia competed in Marn Grook. Native Americans and Aborigines were isolated cultures who spontaneously developed the sport.

Modern soccer has its roots in Great Britain. In the 9th century entire towns would participate in kicking a pig’s bladder around the city center. These contests became so heated and violent, that they often resulted in injury and death. Alarmed by the increasing violence, King Edward III decreed in 1331 an end to the sport in England. Nearly 100 years later King James of Scotland issued the same decree for his nation. Nevertheless, this kicking game continued to be played, albeit less publicly. In fact it was a favorite sport for prisoners who had often lost their hands as punishment for the crime of theft. Queen Elizabeth I, still alarmed by the violent nature of the game, threatened footballers with a week in jail and then a penance in church. The first official rules for Italian football (called calico) were developed by Giovanni Bardi in 1580, which eventually formed the rudiments of modern soccer rules.  Finally in 1605, soccer was declared legal again in Great Britain. Rules were not standardized until 200 years later in 1815, when Eton College established a set of rules based partially on those Bardi developed. The Eton rules were further revised and standardized by Cambridge, leading to the system our kids play by today. This ushered in the era of modern soccer and eventually that world-wide governing agency FIFA.

The first English Football Association was formed in 1863. By this time soccer was also being played quite regularly in North America, especially in the Northeast and among the Ivy League Schools.  Surprisingly it wasn’t until the Rugby Association broke off into its own group that the rules of soccer were revised in 1869 to prohibit any use of hands except by the goal keeper. After that revision and the establishment of the penalty kick in 1888, most changes have been minor to help standardize the game world-wide. The bellwether mark in modern football was the formation of FIFA in 1904 with delegates from seven European countries. The first World Cup soon followed in 1930 comprising 13 teams. Now football was off and running into the international phenomenon it is today.

We in the United States came somewhat late to the party, even though we had played some form of the game since the early 1800’s.  We began with two governing bodies for professional soccer:  United States Football Association (USFA) (now known as United States Soccer Federation - USSF) and American Soccer League (ASL). These two leagues competed for recognition by FIFA, and USFA eventually won FIFA’s support.  However, the battles between the groups escalated when the National Challenge Cup was created. The competition organized by the USFA regularly occurred during ASL’s off-season, making it nearly impossible for that league to field a team. Additionally ASL had most of their teams operated by Major League Baseball owners who wanted a closed league model just like baseball, which meant only a limited number of franchises would be in the league at the top level, and it would be the same teams every year regardless of their records. USFA wanted to run their league like the European open system where there were several league tiers and teams could be relegated to a lower tier or advanced to a higher tier based on their records. The conflict of these systems made it difficult to create a play-off system for the National Cup since ASL had a set number of teams who all expected to participate, and the USFA had an open system that allowed teams from minor leagues to possibly go all the way to the finals. The ASL had also been sanctioned by FIFA for signing European players to their teams who were still under contract to their European teams. Suffering from financial and Public Relations woes, ASL finally stopped the “soccer wars” by rescinding all their attempts to become the premier league in the United States.

Unfortunately the settlement between the USFA and ASL came on the cusp of the Great Depression. Unable to financially field competitive teams and find fans willing to pay to see soccer matches even the National Challenge Cup dissolved. However it would reappear later at the Lamar Hunt Open Cup, which has been won several times by amateur adult club teams. The factor that saved soccer was the large immigrant populations particularly in the Northeast and the Midwest, who created ethnic soccer clubs who were amateur but played regional games that attracted large crowds. Even today these clubs continue to provide a strong base for amateur soccer in America. As the country improved, organizers once again hoped to promote professional soccer in the United States. In 1968 the National Association of Soccer Leagues was organized and the league remained viable until 1984 when several factors lead to the final dissolution of the league in 1985. Luckily college soccer had grown in popularity and strength during this time and college players were looking to play professionally in their own country. In 1993 Major League Soccer (MLS) was formed with ten teams as part of the deal to have the 1994 FIFA World Cup in America. The MLS played its first season in 1996 ultimately expanding to 20 teams with most now playing in soccer-specific stadiums.

The explosion of men’s soccer was nearly dwarfed by the burst of women on the American scene. Attempts have been made to create a professional league for women with only limited success, but national women’s soccer has been amazing. The U.S. Women’s National Team has won three World Cups and two Olympics. Women put America on the world soccer stage in a way the men still struggled to do. In fact, the women’s team is the only American soccer team to ever win the World Cup. Despite limited professional opportunities to advance their skill levels and training, women players have put in the work on their own and signed with foreign professional teams to play when they can.  Two professional leagues have folded since 1991. However in 2012 the National Women’s Soccer League was formed, playing its inaugural season in 2013. It has gotten some good backing as fans want to watch their favorite National Team players on a regular basis. There are now ten teams, which is how the MLS started. Since great professional soccer facilities now exist across the United States, the women have benefitted from that infrastructure, making it easier to maintain and market the league. They are still belt-tightening financially with salary caps of only $200,000, but the league seems to be growing and succeeding.

The youth level of soccer has had several off-shoots. USSF is the umbrella organization for all soccer in America. United States Youth Soccer Association began in 1974 and now has over 3 million youth players. US Youth Soccer sponsors the Olympic Development Program (ODP) which works to identify players to ultimately play on U.S. Soccer Youth National Teams, from which players will be developed for the Men’s and Women’s National Teams. ODP concentrates on selecting individual players from clubs all over the country to play on state, regional and national teams. USSF also formed a Developmental Program which establishes a training protocol that member clubs agree to follow for coaching their teams. These member clubs compete in four regions in the US, and National Team coaches regularly attend matches and tournaments to identify players for further development. Youth soccer has gained from the strength of adult soccer but now adult soccer is advancing from the influx of well-trained, passionate youth players.

Soccer has lasted over the eons primarily because, despite its present-day professionalism, media promotion, and sophistication, the sport requires only one thing – a ball. Therefore it can be played by anyone rich or poor, educated or not, urban or rural and young or old. Our children can take pride in being part of such a rich history, playing a game that has off-shoots such as beach soccer, soccer tennis, futsal and indoor which all use the same basic skills. When Robbie traveled to Kenya to study public health systems, he always had a crowd of kids surrounding him when he produced his soccer ball. The players were often barefoot, the grass knee high, and the goals two rocks marking the goal mouth, but the joy and language were universal. Soccer has a history that isn’t just tied to our own experiences, but makes us citizens of the world.

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‘Tis the Season

Susan Boyd

Today is Cyber Monday, which followed Black Friday and Small Business Saturday, all of which precede a mad rush to find the perfect gifts for the holidays. This season, gift choices are greater than ever though many involve AA batteries or a charger and can eat up your shopping budget. Trying to find something for our youth soccer players that won’t break the bank can be a frustrating search. Obviously every kid would love to get his or her favorite player’s jersey, but most start at over $75 and many can run much higher. If you’re on a budget that can be excessive. One trick is to buy the practice jersey, which for the youngest players will probably work, but as they grow older they get wise to the difference between practice, away, and home jerseys, which move from maybe affordable to holy cow. You also may not be able to get away with buying last season’s jerseys on Ebay for less because kids know what’s current.

Therefore, I have spent many a holiday shopping season uncovering and purchasing some more off-beat soccer choices that might make kids nearly as happy as an official jersey. I’ve had some hits, plenty of misses, and a few bull’s eyes. So here are my suggestions that parents can seek out while sticking to a budget.


Soccer scarves have been a huge hit because they can be worn, brought to games as banners, and hung in rooms for decoration. Most scarves can be found for $25 or less and celebrate any number of teams and nations. has a huge variety of scarves from club, national and college teams. If you really want to make a splash, there are several websites that offer the opportunity to create your own scarf design. You could create one for a high school, youth club team, or home town. These generally have minimum orders so you’ll do better to get a team together to buy them. Bryce designed a scarf for his high school soccer squad, sold 100 of them, and made $350 to help defray the cost of new goal nets for the school. So you could accomplish both gifting and fundraising with one order. are the official scarf manufacturer for MLS, NCAA, USSF, and USL, but they also will do custom orders. Another great clothing item is t-shirts. Some soccer stores can personalize these shirts with names and numbers for a minimal cost. So even though they aren’t an official jersey, they give the youth player a chance to display his or her loyalties. Scores of designs are sold for under $30 on sites such as Besides t-shirts for players, there are novelty shirts for parents and grandparents who want to show their support of their youth players. You can create customized shirts at sites such as, where a shirt can be created for under $20. Lanyards to hold those player passes are a great gift for coaches and team managers. Most choices run from $4 to $10. Attach a 1.5-inch book ring you can get at any office supply store so the passes can be sorted through and removed quickly during those short substitutions while staying secure.


Kids need to tote their gear, but many of the bags offered by the official gear sponsors can run you more than $100. Therefore, you should consider customizing a bag at There’s a huge assortment of styles, colors and sizes, with the most expensive still under $50. I did a baseball bag for my grandson last Christmas, which was a huge hit. I was able to upload his team’s logo, and the site had a simple way to design script, even adding his name. The bag was very sturdy and came in his team colors. There are also backpacks and very inexpensive drawstring bags that can be customized. Kids need to be encouraged to stay hydrated, so a cool water bottle can be both a wonderful inducement and a special gift. Make sure that the bottle opens wide enough to insert ice if you want to be able to and that it is easy to clean. Kids love the Gatorade bottles and you can get two for $12 on Amazon, although they are not insulated. Thermos makes a bottle which is also not insulated but keeps track of your fluid in-take. It has a pop-up spout, comes in seven different colors for $12-$15 and goes in the dishwasher. (


The holy grail of soccer games remains FIFA 16, which sells for around $50. It comes in several platforms, so it can be found for nearly every gaming system. You could also probably get by with FIFA 15, which sells for $35. My sons played this game nearly as much as they played actual soccer. It taught them great strategy, a love for the game, a chance to try out tactics with no adverse consequences. However, it is really for older players. When they were younger they ate up Backyard Soccer. It hasn’t been updated in several years, but it’s a great choice to give young players the gaming experience with an easier to operate program and fun cartoon graphics. These run around $15 and even have an MLS edition. Scene It Sports – Powered by ESPN, isn’t soccer-specific but provides good family fun by using a DVD to set up questions and a game board to move your player. It’s sold for around $15, but may be difficult to find. Finally, there are dozens of apps for IPhone and Android which cover soccer trivia. My favorite for younger players is the Football Logo Quiz Plus, which is free and tests players on their knowledge of various world-wide club and national teams. Finally there’s that stand-by Foosball game, which is even the subject of a new animated movie “Underdogs.” You can buy a table top version rather than a full stand-alone game for prices as low as $17, but a good-sized one will run around $50. There’s a deluxe version from GoGlory ( for $100, which is quite a bit of money but provides a great option to the $300 to $700 stand alones if you would love one of these games for your family playroom. You can purchase it at and it will arrive approximately a week after ordering.


My kids love getting movie passes in their stockings. Christmas is a time of great movie releases, so you might consider taking the family to the multiplex, or you could just give the kids some passes to use as they would like. Most theaters have great promotions this time of year giving huge discounts and even offering “concession dollars.” Be sure to read the small print since some passes won’t work for certain releases or 3D movies. Get tickets to a local soccer match or plan a family vacation around a soccer game. Orlando now has a professional MLS team, so a trip to Disney World and Universal could also include a visit to a match. How about taking the family on a soccer golf outing?  Here in Wisconsin the courses have closed for the season, but you can still set up the adventure for when the thaw begins. The game is a cross between golf and soccer, where you kick the ball around a course and into a basket or hole. You could form teams or do it as a birthday party. It’s great exercise and adds a new dimension to the sport. There are some gifts that can also help improve ball handling skills while providing fun. Soccer “tennis” nets can be easily stored and set up. Olympia Sports has a net for under $45, but you can also buy a roll of netting and attach to poles for a less expensive alternative. These sets sit anywhere from 6 inches to a foot high and the object is to kick the ball over the net to an opponent who returns it until someone misses. It develops stronger ball handling, accurate kicking, and speed of pursuit. Plus it can be a fun family bonding experience getting everyone into the game.


Rounding out the soccer player gift list are a few books to inspire and teach players during the slow off-season that comes in winter. Youngest players will appreciate “Kid Athletes: True Tales of Childhood from Sports Legends,” which tells the stories of popular players’ childhoods, giving kids some inspiration for their own development. Mia Hamm authored “Winners Never Quit,” a great book for the young female (even male) player. Any book from Matt Christopher is an excellent choice for ‘Tweens. Matt weaves in moral and life lessons with some engaging stories about playing the game. Given the recent controversy over Syrian refugees the book “Outcasts United:  The Story of a Refuge Soccer Team That Changed a Town” by Warren St. John tells the inspirational story of how soccer eventually heals animosities and distrust when a Georgia town was designated a refugee center. Biographies of kids’ soccer heroes are plentiful and at many different reading levels. Players who are passionate about the game and regularly tune in to NBC’s broadcasts of English Premier League games might enjoy “The Game of Our Lives. The English Premier League and the Making of Modern Britain” by David Goldblatt which gives a detailed history of the league and its impact on the social, economic, and political arenas. I highly recommend DK Publishing for any of their books on sports. These are affordable and filled with bright, complex photos, graphics, and fact sheets. A few titles I suggest are “Soccer” ($15), “Essential Soccer Skills” ($14), “The Soccer Book” ($14), “Sports Math” series which includes decimals, percentages, and fractions (for the PC), and DK Readers for beginners through 5th grade such as “Soccer School” and “Let’s Play Soccer” ($4). All these books are available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble, but can be found or ordered through your local, neighborhood bookstore as well.

Soccer has gained so much in popularity that many retailers have been stocking scores of amazing soccer-related merchandize. A few web sites with some quirky, but fun options are,, and I can’t detail all the notepads, key rings, and shoelaces to name just a few, but with some searching, you should be able to find any number of special soccer gifts for your players and your family that fit within your budget and bring delight to the recipient.

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Beyond Fear

Susan Boyd

In 2008, I blogged about a mass shooting on the campus of Northern Illinois University. Two of the soccer coaches trained US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program players, so I’d become friends with them through my work with ODP. Because Robbie was being actively recruited by NIU, we had visited the campus just a week before the attacks took place. It was harrowing to have that connection, to know students at the school, and to share in the sadness and disbelief. Despite Robbie hovering in that zone between adolescence and adulthood, he felt tremendous fear. Now half way around the world, we hear about another coordinated assault that began and ended with a soccer connection. In Paris a couple weeks ago, a terrorist incursion began with bombings outside the Stade de France during an ironically designated “friendly” between France and Germany, holding 80,000 potential victims, including French President Francois Hollande. Luckily, besides the three suicide bombers, only one person lost his life thanks to the perpetrators arriving late and being denied entrance. But lamentably there would be more carnage throughout the city that night. The object of these attacks was initially meant to cause as much injury as possible, but the real plan was to create collateral damage in the form of terror – hence the term “terrorists.” Their objective is to freeze people through the fear that at any moment anyone could be a target, and given the rapid spread of media attention the entire world quickly became ancillary victims, a state which particularly affects our children.

The best reaction we adults can have is anger. We understand the context of these events and we can rationalize and ultimately control our fears. Instead we get mad, making the determination to not let the terrorists win. However, for our children these news stories seem all too close and all too real. They only know the fear. It doesn’t have to be a man-made crisis; it can be a natural disaster or a catastrophe, such as a building collapse that sets off terror in our children. Robbie was deathly afraid of tornadoes. He even refused to appear in one of my brother’s movies because it was filming in Omaha during April – as he so eloquently noted “that’s tornado alley — in high season.” He was 10. Friends of ours who ran a restaurant we often visited after soccer practice lost their daughter in the Twin Towers on Sept. 11. The boys were very aware of this fact, which made the event all the more real and immediate for them as small children.

What can parents do when kids see these crises broadcast on TV, splashed in browser pop-ups on the internet, and emblazoned in headlines in the morning paper? It’s virtually impossible to keep disaster from our children. The more they see, the more it becomes real for them. Shootings in Paris, a typhoon in the Philippines, an earthquake in Haiti, or a mine disaster in China all seem like they exist in their own backyards. They have no understanding of statistics, distances, and probabilities with which to sooth their fears. In the many tributes to the victims, the cameras focused on children laying flowers and candles on sidewalks in front of the sites of attacks. I can only imagine how devastating it has been to their sense of security to be so close to tragedy. These children weren’t witnesses to the actual events, but they experienced them through their parents’ reactions or when they sat in a stadium unaware of how close danger had come but becoming acutely mindful later. What we parents have to understand is that our own children thousands of miles removed from these calamities feel just as immediately frightened as their counterparts in Paris.

It’s left to us parents to find ways of making them understand that the dangers aren’t so close and possible. We can do this by providing some context through education. Pulling out a globe to show kids where they live and where the crisis occurred can help ease their fears that they are really just inches away from disaster. For example, we can talk about how long it took for us to drive to St. Louis, show that route on a map, and then show where Paris is in comparison. Use a bowl of rice to demonstrate the small percentage of people injured compared to an entire population. We can also validate stability to give our kids security. Express how the Eifel Tower is still standing, surviving over 100 years through two wars and even these recent attacks. For Robbie, we pointed out how many tornadoes had touched down in S.E. Wisconsin, how far from our house they were, and how long our house, our neighborhood, and our town had survived without damage. We created a “tornado safe” spot in our basement with pillows, flashlights, water, and crackers so he knew where he would be protected. Paradoxically, we were even able to use pictures of tornado devastation to reinforce that despite the destruction, everyone survived due to good warnings and attention to safety. Kids are immediate in their perceptions and emotions, so we can help them gain enough distance to feel comfort.

Naturally, the more we can shield our children from these stories the better. We can easily forget how watching the evening news while preparing dinner opens a door we don’t want them looking through. We can employ a default browser that doesn’t immediately post news stories when our kids open it. We should avoid discussing these disasters with other adults when surrounded by tiny ears. But most importantly, we need to be ready to answer the tough questions without minimizing the queries. We can downplay the dangers, the possibilities, and the outcomes, but we should never downplay the fears. These are very real to our children and need soothing not dismissal. Considering our own anxieties, we can all sympathize. We know the rational explanations why we shouldn’t be afraid of spiders or flying or horror movies, but we are. It’s no different for our children except they have less perspective through which to process and alleviate the fears. We can provide that context for them, but more significantly we can give the warm fuzzies that ultimately make everything better.

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