When the News is Frightening to Children: Tips for Families

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** Our thoughts and prayers are with the families affected by the tragedy in Boston. Today is a good day to tell the ones you love, that you love 'em. ~ Liz Pearce

Reassurance is the key to helping children through a traumatic time.

Very young children need a lot of cuddling, as well as verbal support. You can start by asking children what they have heard. Answer questions about the disaster honestly, at a level they can understand. Don’t dwell on frightening details or allow the subject to dominate family time indefinitely. Encourage children of all ages to express emotions through conversation, drawing, or painting and to find a way to help others who may have been affected by the event.
Try to maintain a normal household routine and encourage children to participate in recreational activity. Temporarily reduce your expectations about performance at home, perhaps by substituting less demanding responsibilities for normal chores.

  • Provide children with opportunities to talk about what they are seeing on television and to ask questions.
  • Don’t be afraid to admit that you can’t answer all their questions. Provide ongoing opportunities for children to talk. They will probably have more questions as time goes on.
  • Allow children to discuss other fears and concerns about unrelated issues. This is a good opportunity to explore these issues also.
  • Monitor children’s television watching. Some parents may wish to limit their child’s exposure to graphic or troubling scenes. To the extent possible, watch reports of the disaster with children. It is at these times that questions might arise.
  • Help children understand that there are no bad emotions and that a wide range of reactions is normal. Encourage children to express their feelings to adults (including teachers and parents) who can help them understand their sometimes strong and troubling emotions.
  • In addition to the tragic things they see, help children identify good things, such as heroic actions, families who are grateful for being reunited, and the assistance offered by people throughout the country and the world.

When Talking Isn’t Enough

  • For children who exhibit ongoing anxiety, more active interventions may be required.
  • The family as a unit might consider counseling. Tragic events often reawaken a child’s fear of loss of parents (frequently their greatest fear) at a time when parents may be preoccupied with their own practical and emotional difficulties.
  • Families may choose to permit temporary regressive behavior, such as separation anxiety. Several arrangements may help children separate gradually after the agreed-upon time limit: spending extra time with parents immediately before bedtime, leaving the child’s bedroom door slightly ajar, and using a nightlight.

Acknowledge that you too may have reactions associated with the traumatic event, and take steps to promote your own physical and emotional health. Find a friend to talk through your feelings with.

Lastly, give the children in your life an extra hug – today.

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Thanks, Liz. I have shared this on the Virginia Nurses Association FB and twitter pages. Thanks for taking the time in the middle of a scary day to try to help other parents. Keep up the great work.