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Parenting

Helping Kids Cope With Tragic Events

2:00

Another all too common tragedy has saddened the hearts of Americans this week. Just 35 days after a man opened fire on a crowd of concertgoers in Las Vegas, killing 58 people and wounding nearly 500 others, another mass killing has taken place. This time in the small community of Sutherland Springs, Texas, leaving 26 people dead and 10 critically injured.  About half of the victims were children, according to news reports. This follows a terrorist attack in New York City on Halloween that killed 8 people. The heartbreak and numbers are gut wrenching to think about.

These kinds of horrific events can make the world seem like a terrifying place, particularly for kids.

How can you help your child cope with such frightening news? As a parent or a caregiver, how you react can have a strong impact on how your child views his or her own safety.

Dr. Jennifer Caudle, an associate professor at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford, suggests that parents shield their children from news reports.

"Children may become upset by news coverage," Caudle said. So monitor and limit what they see, hear or read. This may reduce their anxiety and help them deal with these unsettling events, she explained.

Other suggestions include:

  • Ask your child what they have already heard about the event. 
  • Provide the facts but try not to make judgments about the situation. 
  • Avoid upsetting details, and reassure children that people are working hard to make things better for everyone. 
  • Don't pressure kids to talk about the events, but encourage them to share their feelings by talking, drawing or writing. 
  • Let children know they can come to you for information and that they are free to ask questions. 
  • Remind children that their home is a safe place. 
  • Let children know that people may react differently to hard-to-understand events.

If your child or adolescent seems to be obsessing over the events and is having a hard time putting things in perspective, they may need professional help. 

"Problems with sleeping, changes in appetite or behavior, mood changes and new physical complaints, such as stomach aches and headaches, could -- in some children -- be a sign that they are having a difficult time coping," she said. "If this is the case, make sure your child sees a health care professional."

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) says that it is important to let your child know that you will do your best to take care of him or her, that you love them and it’s okay for them to feel upset or sad.

NIMH also offers these tips:

  • If your child is having trouble sleeping give them extra attention, let them sleep with a light on, or let them sleep in your room (for a short time).
  • Try to keep normal routines, for example, reading bedtime stories, eating dinner together, watching TV together, reading books, exercising, or playing games.

Unfortunately, these types of tragedies don’t appear to being going away anytime soon. But, you can help your child (and yourself) by reminding them that although there are some people that might want to inflict harm on others, most people are loving and kind. They want a safe place for children to grow up in and they are doing their best to make this world a better place.

Story sources: Mary Elizabeth Dallas, https://consumer.healthday.com/mental-health-information-25/child-psychology-news-125/helping-children-cope-when-a-mass-tragedy-strikes-728263.html

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/helping-children-and-adolescents-cope-with-violence-and-disasters-parents/index.shtml

Your Child

Helping Children Cope With Frightening News Events

2:30

Gone are the days when most Americans got their news from 3 or 4 sources around the evening dinner hour. Today, thousands of news reports (some real, some fake) instantly flood our phones, computers, TVs and radios, sometimes with real time graphic images.

While some news events may be difficult for even adults to comprehend (with all our life experience and knowledge about current affairs), children don’t have that advantage when they hear and see things that feel threatening to their safety and family stability.

The Journal of American Medical Association, (JAMA) Pediatrics, has published a free online patient’s page dedicated to How to Talk to Your Children About Tragedies in the News.

The amount of information available on current events is almost instant. Sometimes parents don’t have a chance to screen what their children see and hear, so it’s important to know how to talk with your children about what they are experiencing.

The JAMA article is broken down into different age groups. Your approach should differ depending on your child’s age and ability to understand complicated situations.

A good place to start in discussing a tragic event is by asking what your child has already heard. After you listen carefully, you can ask what questions they have. It is important to be honest about what happened and to focus on the basics. It is not necessary to share every detail, and it is important to avoid speculating about what might happen next. Listen closely to your child for misinformation or underlying fears. Remind your child that you are there for him or her and will keep them safe. A key underlying message for parents to convey is, “It is ok if this bothers you; we are here to support each other.”

For very young children, news events can be frightening because they don’t understand context. Children may wonder; is this going to happen to us? Is this happening in our neighborhood? Are my friends ok? Are we next? News media coverage can include graphic images and sounds. It is best to share information with children by discussing it rather than showing the media coverage. Young children may have more questions about whether they are truly safe and may need help separating fantasy from reality. Some children may become clingy or regress in behavior such as wetting the bed or sucking their thumbs. It is important to be patient and to support your child if he or she reacts in this way. Do not ignore your child’s fears or brush them off. Realize that children see the world from a different perspective.

For older children and teenagers, it may be more difficult to avoid exposure to these events in the news. Kids on social media outlets often see stories and videos on their phones while at school or out with friends.- before you have a chance to preview the news. When there is a concerning news event and you have the opportunity, try to preview it before showing it to them so that you know what to expect and what key points to discuss. Then watch it together. Older children and teenagers may want more information about the tragedy and the recovery efforts. They may have opinions about the causes as well as suggestions to prevent future tragedies or a desire to help those in need. Listen to what they say and validate their concerns. If they’ve already seen something tragic, again, ask them what they think about it and talk about their concerns and what they see as a next step in coping.

Other ways you can help your child manage unsettling news are:

  • Be a calm presence. It is okay for children to see adults be sad or cry, but consider excusing yourself if you experience intense emotions.
  • Reassure your child of his or her safety. Consider reviewing your family’s plans for responding to an emergency.
  • Maintain the routine. To give your child a sense of normalcy, keep up your family’s usual dinner, homework, and bedtime routine.
  • Spend extra time together. This can foster your child’s sense of security. Encourage your child to express his or her feelings.
  • When possible, do something to help. Consider ways that you and your family can help survivors and their families.

Like adults, some children may have difficulty with events for a variety of unexpected reasons. Think back to 9-11. How many of us were prepared to watch the towers collapse and the horror and anguish of the families that were missing relatives and friends in the buildings? How we feared that there was a possibility that our country was under attack. It was one of the most devastating events our country has ever experienced in the modern age of instant media information.

Time has helped us put that day in perspective, but the repeated showing of the planes flying into the towers gave many Americans PSTD symptoms. It was almost too much to comprehend. Remember that when your child is scared or anxious about a current event. Help them realize that tragedies do happen, but we can and most often, do survive.

Some signs that a child is not coping well include sleep problems, physical complaints such as feeling tired, having a headache or stomachache, or just feeling unwell. Changes in behavior may include regressive behavior such as acting more immature or being less patient, and mental health concerns like sadness or heightened depression or anxiety. Sometimes it can be hard to tell if a child is reacting in a typical way to a tragic event or if there is something else going on.

Talk with your child’s pediatrician if you are concerned about your child’s reaction.

These are uncertain times. Everyone seems to be a bit on edge, wondering when the next shoe will drop. Have a plan on how to talk to your youngster about current events. Most of all have patience and be a good example of calmness and reassurance; that no matter what happens, you have their best interests at heart.

Story source: http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/fullarticle/2646851

 

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