Images and talk of violence affect our everyday lives, causing a lot of anxiety. However, these incidents are especially confusing and overwhelming for children. Although age plays a part in determining when a child can understand stressful events, there are steps you can take to reassure your children and make them feel comforted and safe. Senseless violence such as the recent shooting in Las Vegas can be hard to deal with for people of any age.
It’s important to start the conversation with your kids. Start by asking what your child already knows. Between friends, social media and nonstop news coverage, chances are they’re aware of recent events. Listen carefully and try to find out what they’ve heard. As they explain, listen for misinformation, misconceptions and underlying concerns. Gently correct inaccurate information and take time to provide accurate information in an age-appropriate manner.
The following are more detailed tips to help your child cope with and understand tragic events.
▪ Always be honest and give answers that are simple and age-appropriate.
▪ If your child was directly involved or lost someone in the tragedy, professional assistance might be necessary.
▪ Toddlers and school-age children may not understand that an event isn’t still happening when the news replays images, so it may be best to restrict access to certain TV shows or news coverage to insulate them from the traumatizing event.
▪ Children often have magical thinking (believing that their actions can cause unrelated events), so you must reassure them that they are safe and they are not at fault.
▪ It is difficult to protect your school-age child from the news, so always provide age-appropriate information and facts without giving too many details, especially if your child is asking questions.
▪ Older children may be able to cope better than younger children but still need support. Ask open-ended questions and encourage them to talk openly about their fears and concerns.
When younger children experience a lot of stress, they are often unable to verbalize their fears and worries. Therefore, it’s important to look for signs and symptoms that may indicate they are having trouble coping. These can include:
▪ Nausea and vomiting
▪ Trouble sleeping
▪ Regressive behaviors such as thumb-sucking, bed-wetting or fear of the dark
▪ Temper tantrums
▪ High sensitivity to sounds
▪ Aggressive behavior such as lying, bullying and engaging in disruptive behavior
▪ Nervous habits, such as pulling hair, biting nails or scratching themselves
Talk with your pediatrician if your child seems to be having trouble coping.
Craig Collison, M.D., is a provider with Mount Nittany Physician Group Pediatrics.