Once again families are coping with how to explain tragic and scary news events to their children. These events shake our very foundation, as our sense of security erodes with each incident. In times such as these, it is important to reassure your child that you, their teachers, law enforcers, and members of their community are doing everything possible to keep them safe from harm. Children are resilient and can use coping strategies to help them deal with their fears. As a caregiver, you know your child best and can tailor your communication about these news events in an age-appropriate and sensitive manner.
Here are some tips to help you and your children cope with frightening events:
* As parents and caregivers, it is important to first calm your own fears before talking with your child. Children will first react to your level of fear and anxiety. To help you plan what you will say to your child, talk to friends, neighbors, and your child’s teacher to get their advice. Please take care of yourself by limiting your television viewing and seeking comfort from your family and community.
* Be available and provide physical comfort. In fearful times, children need to be reassured that their parents and caretakers have their family life under control and are comforted by having their loved ones physically close to them. This family time reassures them that they and the whole family are safe. Hugs and special comfort items also help them to cope with their fears.
* Try to keep a normal routine. Children will be less anxious if life is as stable and predictable as possible. To the degree possible, stick to your usual schedules and routines.
* Avoid watching television coverage. Older children who know what is happening are often traumatized by the ongoing news coverage. For the younger children, they may interpret the ongoing news coverage of an event to mean that it’s actually happening over and over and possibly occurring in their neighborhood.
* Listen and allow your child to ask questions. Create an atmosphere during together time with your child to allow him or her to freely express his or her thoughts and concerns. Once you have an idea of the source of fear or anxiety, you can have an open dialogue with your child.
Coping with Emotions
* Help your child deal with frightening times by discussing activities you can do together to feel better (e.g. drawing pictures, writing letters, reading, playing games). Resilient children learn that although they might feel sad, angry, or anxious, these emotions will change. They will not always feel this way and there are things they can do to feel better.
* Children need to know that it’s okay to express their feelings in their way. Your child may want to talk about his or her emotions openly or may prefer drawing pictures, writing stories, or taking comfort by reading books, listening to music or playing games.
* Empowering your child with a sense of control of his or her life is also beneficial to coping with this situation. Involve your child in decision making about activities the family can do together, and for older children, discuss strategies for maintaining their activities while being mindful of their safety.