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Donna Bivona, LMHC, Registered Play Therapist View Entire Blog

Helping Children Feel Safe When They Hear of Tragedy on the News

12/16/2012
When tragedy strikes like the senseless school shooting in Connecticut, we might think our children are oblivious. Then as we are driving in the car or getting ready for dinner they ask a question about what they have heard or seen. They might ask why it happened and you might wonder how to respond. The following are tips that can help:

*First, be alert to your own mood. If you stay calm, you help your child be calm. Your child can sense anxiety and will mirror that emotion.
*Listen to your child: Find out what your child knows first and ask open-ended questions like: What happened? What do you think should happen?
*Keep it simple: You want to answer your child’s questions in ways they understand. Keep the conversation at your child’s developmental level. Give as much information as needed, but you don’t have to go into great detail.
*Be Alert to Your Child’s Mood: If your child seems worried or sad, provide reassurance.
*Discuss safety precautions: Reassure your child about being safe. As a hurricane approaches, we put up shutters to be safe. Discuss how your child’s school takes precautions to keep them safe.
*Practice safety: We all feel helpless when tragedy occurs. To encourage a sense of empowerment, we can teach our child to look for the nearest exits just as you do on an airplane. As you shop or go on outings ask, “If there was an emergency, how can we get out? If that door is blocked, what is our second choice?” Looking for exits might give you and your child a sense of control over emergency situations.
*Monitor TV viewing: Repeated presentations of the same event could be confusing to young minds. Limit viewings.
*Monitor your child’s play: Adults have the verbal skills to discuss thoughts and feelings, but children will often use play. If they get yelled at in school, they might pretend to be a teacher yelling at a student. During 9/11 children’s play consisted of planes crashing into buildings. The play allows them to process what they have seen and heard. If a child keeps repeating the same traumatic event over and over again and seems “stuck” in this play, it might be a sign that professional help is needed.
*Model Appropriate coping behavior: Acknowledge upsetting feelings and discuss ways to manage concerns. Hug your child and do fun things together to reassure them that they are okay.