While adults may be able to mitigate the often violent, tragic and disturbing words and images that assault us from every angle in today’s 24-hour news cycle, even we are likely to suffer from sensory overload from time to time. Imagine what it’s like for children, often unwitting consumers of troubling content that they are too young to process. How are they to respond to, much less understand, the graphic and emotionally charged content they may be exposed to? We asked Dr. Stephanie Marcy, a pediatric psychologist at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, to share her advice on how to help children deal with scary news.
TURN OFF THE TV
Be aware when your children are present during coverage of a tragic event or natural disaster. Young children may not have the capacity to separate the events on TV from their own life. Even events that happened some time ago, or very far away, can seem immediate and close by to young children.
DON’T SHARE YOUR ANXIETIES WITH YOUR CHILDREN
Beware of children overhearing troubling issues that may be beyond their understanding or ability to cope with when you discuss the news with other adults.
BE CALM AND REASSURING
When a child begins to fear tragic events in their own life as a result of exposure to events happening elsewhere, the most reassuring thing you can do is calmly explain that the child is safe, and that you have everything under control. Rely on the comfort of routine to impart a sense of security.
DON’T DISCUSS MORE THAN YOUR CHILD WANTS TO HEAR
Determine what is appropriate to share with your child based on their developmental level. Don’t share information that they cannot properly process, or that they are unlikely to be directly affected by. Start by sharing basic information you may be concerned they would hear somewhere else. Then listen closely to your child and let them lead the conversation. Respond to their questions in an age-appropriate manner, and give them the time to process the information and return with other questions later.
HELP YOUR CHILD REACH OUT
Helping those directly impacted by tragedy can often be the best balm for a troubled soul. This is true for both adults and children. Help your child gain a sense of control by assisting them in sending well wishes or otherwise supporting victims.
If you are concerned that your child has witnessed events that may be causing significant anxiety and trauma, do not hesitate to reach out for professional assistance. Displaying your love and support is paramount, but your child’s pediatrician will be able to recommend the best professional protocol for you to pursue.