Recent school shootings, international conflicts or natural disasters in the news can have a profound effect on children many miles from the scene. The sheer volume of media exposure of disturbing tragedies makes it difficult to prevent kids from experiencing them vicariously through the news.
The most important thing to do first is to start the conversation. Don’t expect kids to approach you about it. Ask your child about her understanding of the events and how they make her feel.
Without proper assurance, the impact of traumatic events can remain with kids for a long time, even throughout their lives. Below are 5 tips to help your child weather the most traumatic disasters, while growing even stronger.
- Encourage a discussion or expression of feelings. During these tragedies, often what kids need most is someone they trust who will listen to their questions, accept their feelings and be there for them. Discuss the event, but don’t offer too much information that’s difficult for them to comprehend or process, and help your kids understand their feelings. Remind them it’s OK to be upset or worried.
- Be a good role model. Kids are influenced by their parents’ reactions and may even adopt the same feelings and behaviors as their parents. Remain calm and limit your feelings, so you don’t overwhelm your kids. If you’re anxious or freaking out, kids will pick up on your vulnerability.
- Reassure your children they are safe. Remind kids these events are rare, but discuss safety measures their school or family put in place for extra precaution. Also, point out the extraordinary things the police, firefighters, emergency rescue teams and everyday heroes did in the face of the tragedy.
- Limit media exposure, if possible. Shield your child from graphic details and images in the media. Hearing too much about the event or reliving it over and over again can traumatize kids. If your child does want to watch the coverage, watch it together so you are there to answer questions and discuss what you’ve seen and heard.
- Watch for anxieties or unusual behaviors to surface. Look for signs of increased anxiety, including stomachaches or headaches, excessive crying, increased clinginess, withdrawal from school, acting out, regression or sleep disorders. Unusual behaviors can be a gauge for their level of distress.