When our sense of security as a nation is shaken, we must be prepared to discuss the events with our children. Undoubtedly the crisis will be broadcast on national television as it happens. Our television screens, newspapers and internet could be flooded with terrible images. You may be anxious and worried, but calmness in adults is important to the children who look to them for direction.
What Reactions Can I Expect From My children? (This will vary depending on the particular child/youth):
- Anxious, disorganized, restless behavior
- Sleep difficulties
- Tendency to look for simple answers: who is to blame, why can’t we find them, revenge, etc.
- Excitement: based on the child mixing up "real" violence versus television, film and video game violence--this may seem unreal.
- Increase in aggressive or war-themed play
- Loss of routine and security
- Less mature behavior than usual
- Very young children should be kept to a usual routine and shielded from news or intense discussion. If they have specific questions, they are likely to be based on immediate observations of those around them, such as why a parent or friend is upset.
- School-age children cannot be completely protected. They will hear things and they will have questions. They do not need to be overwhelmed with news broadcasts. Ask them what they have heard and what they have questions about.
- Give short, factual answers. Be honest but not overwhelmingly blunt. Offer information at the child’s level of understanding until their need to know is satisfied.
- Give them time to process what you discuss.
- Listen. We can’t assure kids that everything is OK, because it isn’t.
- Share how you are handling the stress. How do you calm and comfort yourself, and what brings you reassurance during a difficult time?
- Let them know that worries and concerns are normal reactions and OK to feel. Offer reassurance, presence and companionship.
- Let them know that many of the changes they are seeing are in place to protect them. For example, no planes are flying until we are sure it is safe. Emphasize the precautions that are being taken to keep kids and families safe.
- Build a sense of control to help reduce stress. If there are ways that children or youth can help—in the family, the neighborhood or the community—help them do it.
- Offer art materials such as paint, clay or collage to offer creative release and to use in expressing feelings.
Alegent Health Psychiatric Associates