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How can I help my child feel safe after a tragedy in the news?

I think it definitely depends on the proximity of the tragedy to the child. If something happened in your child's school, I think there's a different recommendation than if something just happened in another state or in another country. Certainly, if something bad has happened in your child's school, I definitely would reach out to your child's counselors. If they're not available for some reason, definitely get referrals to community counselors and therapists that can work with your child, probably in a play-based setting, to work through their anxieties and their sadness about what has happened. If your children have severe anxiety or depression impacting them on a fundamental basis, then reach out to a counselor so the counselor can talk with your child on a deeper level about their fears and sadness.

Less is better; don't expose your child to news unless you have to. In the event your child did hear something and asks questions, answer them with simplicity. You don't have to give long philosophical discussions. When answering questions project calmness and confidence in your answers in a nurturing environment. Don't keep the TV on when your child is running around the house, they don't need to be exposed to all of the pictures flashing across the screen. Give your children lots of love and answer questions that come up with certainty. Also answer questions in a developmentally appropriate way. For example, young children need to feel secure and safe. Reassure them that this is a rare event. Try to establish their routine as soon as possible. Young children aren't as good at verbalizing their emotions and may act out behaviorally. Watch for behavioral signs of distress. Most importantly, be patient...healing takes time.

 

Charles J. Sophy, MD
Adolescent Medicine

A tragedy scares everyone, so you can only imagine the impact that it has on a child who doesn't entirely grasp the full extent of what happened. Following a tragedy in the news it is imperative that you are there for your child. To help your child cope you need to make sure that you yourself are in check. Showing that you have feelings is good, but your child looks to you for support. In their eyes, mom and dad can handle anything, so when talking with them you need to be brave and reassuring.

Make sure to listen to their feelings. I know that you want to explain everything to your child, but let them tell you about the tragedy from their eyes. If they leave out details, do not feel obligated to fill them in. It is more than okay if your child does not know every little detail of what happened. Then, when they are done, you can answer questions they have in very basic terms. Do not go into unnecessary details and stay calm. They are looking to you for stability.

Be aware that your children are always listening. Try not to leave the news on too much and be absolutely positive that your children are out of earshot when talking with other adults about the tragedy. This is not how you want your children to get information on the tragedy; you want them to get it from you.

Try not to let the tragedy take over your life. Do family things, stay busy, have fun, anything that takes your child's mind off the tragedy is a positive. It will show your child that life will go on; your family will be okay.

Finally, see what the community needs and what you and your family can do to help. Aiding with the healing process will also help your children to heal. It will also comfort them to know that if your family is ever in a similar tragedy, people will help you too.

Tragedy touches all of us, and heightens the worry and anxiety for both children and adults. Although creating safety will be a challenge, there are a couple of things parents can do.

  1. Monitor media usage: It's hard to pull yourself away from the television or radio, and that's exactly what you need to do. Protect your children from being on information overload. They might be confused, concerned or it will increase their anxiety.
  2. Be open to discussion: There will be many questions, and you will not have all the answers. And your own emotions might get in the way. Do not shut down or avoid the discussion, and do your best to be honest and open.
  3. Work toward normalcy: Be prepared for things to be rough, and work toward getting things back to some sort of normalcy. Children thrive on that, and you have to work towards it.
  4. Offer reassurance: Remind the children in your life that, although bad things happen, there are more good people, and that he/she will be protected and safe, to the best of your ability.

 

Michele Borba
Psychology
To help your child feel emotionally safe after a tragedy:
  • Anticipate Concerns: Kids zero in on those violent terms faster than we do and depending on their age may misinterpret those events. Tune into what your child says for clues. Anticipate what your child may concern your child. Then start a dialogue addressing those concerns.
A child's biggest worry after a tragedy is: "Such an event could happen here and it could happen to me and to the people I love and care about. Will I be safe?"
  • Offer Perspective: "That event happened a long way from here." "The police put that bad man in jail so everyone is safe." "All the doctors, firemen and police ran to help." "Everything is safe now."
  • Don't Dwell: Just use a calm, reassuring, matter of fact statement that conveys safety. Answer questions directly, honestly, but at your child's level of understanding. Children also process information differently than adults. They may only tune into parts of what you say as they try to make sense of this information. They may also ask repeated questions. Take your child's lead.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.