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Educating kids about terrorism using ‘P-E-A-R-L-S’

Cedarhurst psychologist applies expertise to tough topic for children and parents

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Grappling with an increase in anxiety among her patients and seeing countless news stories of bombings and terrorist attacks being reported, Cedarhurst resident and board certified psychologist Dr. Laurie Zelinger decided to write “Please Explain ‘Terrorism’ To Me: A Story for Children, P-E-A-R-L-S of Wisdom for their Parents” in November 2015 to make the topic more accessible to her clients and their families.

Using over 25 different, relevant sources to reinforce her own expertise, Zelinger wrote the first draft of the book, for an audience primarily between the ages of 7 and 10, in approximately two weeks and spent six months improving the story.

“Because I’m a child psychologist,” she said, “I speak the language that kids understand,” of the style of writing she used to present the subject of terrorism to young readers. The book, the fourth Zelinger has written, follows a main character that experiences bullying in school while he struggles to understand a recent terrorist attack that he saw on the television. Due to his parents’ reluctance to speak with him about terrorism, he was less inclined to share his bullying situation.

Woodmere resident Ann Israeli illustrated the book. Israeli is a retired art teacher and wall paper and textile designer. She and Zelinger worked closely together to bring the text to life through the artwork. “I wanted it to feel familiar to people,” Israeli said. 

As an art teacher at South Side Middle School in Rockville Centre when 9/11 happened, Israeli said: “I witnessed first hand the horrific impact on not only the children who lost parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends, but also the whole community including the staff.”

One of the most significant challenges that Israeli faced while illustrating her first book, was “putting a visual picture to Dr. Zelinger’s carefully thought out scenarios,” she said. “I wanted to do justice to what her words were saying.” Another obstacle was to keep the illustrations kid-friendly and colorful. Her years in the classroom helped Israeli portray children’s facial expressions and idiosyncrasies.

Israeli often takes photographs of subjects to serve as a baseline when she paints. For example, there is a page in the book that addresses the MTA slogan: “If you see something, say something.” She took a photo of the sign at the Hewlett Long Island Railroad station to help her generate the illustration.

The first part of the book is a children’s story intended to help young kids understand terrorism and address negative issues. The second part, called “P-E-A-R-L-S of Wisdom,” stands for Prepare, Explain, Answer, Reassure, Listen and Safeguard. This section is directed at parents and serves as a resource to guide them as they tackle the issue of terrorism together with their kids in a way that provides “unbiased information and reassurance without a consequent rise in anxiety,” Zelinger said. 

Victor Volkman, the founder, senior editor and CEO of Loving Healing Press based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, said: “The need has never been greater,” for a book that presents information about terrorism to children in such a way that they can understand it better. “[Laurie] seems to have a real ability to connect with the needs of parents,” he added.

The book was available for preorder Sept. 1 on Amazon and will be distributed for sale in stores and online Nov. 1. 

For more information on Dr. Laurie Zelinger, visit drzelinger.com/blog/.