Whether it is the horror of a violent event, an act of terrorism, or a natural disaster, the news of such things can have powerful impact on children of all ages. It can cause tremendous fear and anxiety, or it can just raise some questions. Each child will react differently. But no one goes totally unaffected.
In dealing with your child, here are some tips that will help you to help your child process what has happened.
- First of all, take care of your own feelings. Children take their cues from you. And you leak.
- Turn off media. Limit your child’s exposure, including on the car radio, on TV, computer, on all devices.
- Maintain your normal schedules and routines. The regularity of life helps children feel safe.
- Do not whisper in front of the kids. Doing so draws attention to what you don’t want him to hear.
- Don’t be afraid to have the conversation. If your child asks, comments, alludes to the event, or if you know he has been exposed to the news, take time to talk. If not, poke around to find out what/if he knows. You may need to START the conversation, or it may not be necessary.
- Find out what your child already knows. You don’t want to give more information than is necessary. Let his questions or comments be your guide. Follow his agenda.
- Gently correct inaccurate information or misconceptions.
- Make more time to talk. Be patient. Children don’t always talk about their feelings right away. Sometimes feelings dribble out in time and while other things are going on. Look out for cues that he might want to talk. If he is hanging around you (in your work space or kitchen) more than normal, it is likely a sign. Go on walks, be together to allow talk to bubble up and flow naturally.
- Remind and assure your child that he is safe. While validating his worried or scared feelings, stress that his school is safe, and many adults are there to protect him. Give simple examples of school and home safety like locked doors, house alarms, video cameras, child supervision on the playgrounds, and emergency drills at school.
- Encourage and answer questions directly, honestly, and calmly. Some questions are difficult. Be honest, but keep it simple, using as few words as possible.
- Circle the wagons. Limit adult, night time activities outside the home; be together more than usual.
- Be a positive role model. Share your feelings, but be reasonable and in control. Express your sadness and empathy. Share how you handle your own feelings—by talking and sharing. Point out to your child the good amidst the horror of the event— first responders, law enforcement, medical people all doing their jobs, and strangers who help strangers.
- Look for ways to help. Find ways for you and your child to express your feelings to the powers that be, to your governmental representatives, for example. Have a clothing drive, a lemonade stand to raise money. Doing something channels a person’s fears and helps a child to feel more in control.
- Emphasize See Something, Say Something. Discuss the difference between tattling and reporting, as older children shy away from being a snitch or tattletale.
- When your child asks “What if?” Explain the difference in possibility and probability. There is always the possibility, but there is no probability that it will happen to you.
- Be firm and clear in telling your child always to stay away from guns and weapons. If he hears any weapon talk or sees a weapon, he must tell an adult.
- Monitor your child’s emotional condition. Be aware of any changes in his behavior, appetite, sleep patterns, or frequency of communication. All of these can be signs of anxiety and that s/he needs a different kind of attention. Seek the help of a mental health professional, if necessary