Kids' Fears of Fire Not All 'Mythology'

In "Were Kids Really Scared by Fires?" (Nov. 17), Lynn Smith wrote that the expert she consulted, Justin Aronfreed, psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, denied that children who watched the fires on TV may need help with fire-related fears, and that children are not as easily terrorized and paralyzed as many experts would like us to think.

I am a psychologist. I would like to invite Aronfreed to follow me around the school where I work (and where I have absolutely no vested interest in drumming up business or feeding a "mythology of special expertise" as he so charmingly puts it).

Since the fires, we have seen at school a rash of office referrals for stomachaches, wetting and soiling, aggressive behaviors and other distress symptoms in a part of town that was not directly affected by the fires. Without help, the children's coping may take the form of one more layer of defenses, so that they may develop into some of our "normal" adults, who are insensitively competitive, hostile, sociopathic and even psychopathic.

While there is no need to create a problem where none exists, we need to be sensitive to the fact that children are more prone than adults to anxiety. Any marked change in behavior in children signals distress and should be treated. It should also be noted that these symptoms do not always appear immediately and that it may be weeks or months before they become evident.

MARIE B. AMMAR, Los Angeles

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