Monday, April 22, 2013

Reassuring Your Frightened Child in Times of Crisis

     The television images appear again and again: an explosion in Texas, people running from the finish line of a marathon or a school shooting. Even as adults we find ourselves seeking ways to cope with the violent events that occur in our world, and how to avoid seeing the disturbing images.

     As parents, you want to protect the innocence of your children. Yet there is a careful balancing act that needs to be achieved when it comes to providing basic and realistic information to ground our kids when they hear about things at school, the playground or their day care provider’s.

     “Parents need to be aware that children may react strongly to those events and should be prepared to discuss their child's thoughts and feelings,” said Julie Kugler-Bentley, coordinator of the Employee Assistance Program for Meritus Health’s Behavioral Health Services.

     She says adults can help their children by knowing what media they are exposed to, providing calm, matter-of-fact explanations for things that are happening and equipping them with the confidence to know how to behave when confronted with a frightening situation.

Here are some guidelines from Julie:
  • Be honest about the situation. Give your children information at their own level and put it in context. Explain that even though frightening things happen every once in a while, most children go about their day with no harm. Don't describe unlikely scenarios that would unnecessarily frighten your children. 
  • Make it your business to know what information your child is getting. Monitor their exposure to television, and be with them to explain what they are seeing and answer their questions. Ask them what they are hearing at school and give them factual information to dispel rumors they are hearing from others. Communicate with daycare providers, teachers, school counselors and administrators when necessary to share information about hos your child is coping and to get additional helpful information or direction. 
  • Limit how much time they spend watching violent movies, videos, or computer games. The impact of violence for children is cumulative. 
  • Know that behavioral impacts at different ages happen because children of varying ages react differently. Younger children may show more separation anxiety when their parents leave them at daycare or school. Older children may present a rough exterior or aggressive behavior. 
  • Provide extra emotional support for your children. Review safety precautions and practice routines of going to and from school with them. Teach your children that they should go to an adult they trust if they feel threatened in any situation. 
  • Avoid infecting your children's lives with your own anxiety. Feeling overwhelmed by anxiety caused by traumatic events? Take steps to deal with your own feelings by talking to a trusted friend or counselor, meditating, praying or other activity before your children are affected. 
  • Some children have other factors in their lives that may make them especially fearful. Children who have experienced a traumatic incident in the past, children who are grieving a personal tragedy, and children who are ill are all more susceptible to anxiety. 
  • Give your child personal reassurance. Tell them what you are doing to ensure their safety, what their daycare provider or teacher is doing to maintain safety, and what they can do to enhance their own safety. 
  • Don't overdo it. Maintain normal routines for eating, sleeping, and play. Keep an eye open for any signs of anxiety. 
By: Linda Norris

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