How can I help my child cope with scary news events?

Michele Borba
Being emotionally present and available is essential in supporting your child, especially if he or she is stressed. Don’t assume because your child isn’t talking about the latest news tragedy or the recession, that he isn’t hearing about it. Chances are he is and he needs to get the facts straight. You are the best source for that information.

Your child also needs to know that it is okay to share his feelings with you and that it’s normal to be upset.

You might start the dialogue with a simple: “What have you heard?” or “What are your friends saying?”

You don’t need to explain more than your child is ready to hear. What’s most important is letting your child know you are always available to listen or answers his concerns.

One of the best ways to reduce feelings of anxiety is to help kids find proactive ways to allay their fears. It also empowers kids to realize they can make a difference in a world that might appear scary or unsafe.

Put together a “care package” to send to a soldier overseas (sunscreen, writing paper and pens, CDs, magazines and a hand-written note of appreciation).

Adopt the elderly neighbor and bring her a batch of homemade cookies.

Or have your kids help you send “hugs” (a teddy bear, crayons, coloring book) to a child who has just lost all her earthly possessions in a flood, tornado, fire or other natural disaster.

News media tends to be filled with fear-based content. Research shows us that children’s stress levels increase when learning about disasters, terrorism, or stories with scary content on the news. Tips to reduce anxiety for children should include limiting exposure to graphic news images on television, online and in newspapers and magazines. Be watchful of other communication of news like listening to radio broadcasts and even conversations that occur at the bus stop or schools. Children are sensitive to anxiety producing information in numerous ways. Parents and teachers should take significant news events and use them as teachable moments, asking children to share their feelings and thoughts about whatever is going on. It's important for adults to not overwhelm children with their own anxieties - and to keep factual information in the forefront instead of expressing emotionally to whatever is going on. Reassurance is a key piece to helping children understand scary events, letting them know the likelihood of something occurring to them-  or near them - is very low. Don’t disrupt your daily routine if a something locally or globally is making headlines. Structure and predictability grounds children - and us adults - as we move through difficult moments.


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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.