Helping Children Cope with Traumatic Events

helping children

Mass slayings, like the church shooting in Texas Sunday that left at least 26 dead, are hard enough for adults to comprehend. For children, these tragedies can make the world seem like a terrifying place.

In the wake of such bloodshed, a New Jersey family physician offers guidance to parents trying to help children manage their fears.

Start by shielding your kids from the news reports, suggested Dr. Jennifer Caudle, an associate professor at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford.

“Children may become upset by news coverage,” Caudle said. So monitor and limit what they see, hear or read. This may reduce their anxiety and help them deal with these unsettling events, she explained.

The Sutherland Springs, Texas, massacre was just the latest in a series of recent mass killings in the United States. In New York City on Halloween, a terrorist using a rented van killed eight people on a bike path. And on Oct. 1, a gunman in Las Vegas opened fire on hundreds of concert-goers, killing 58 and wounding nearly 550 more victims.

Parents who want to help their children cope with such carnage should be mindful of their own reactions, Caudle said.

Kids may look to you to help them understand what has happened, and they’ll pick up on your emotional cues, she noted.

Here are some of her suggestions:

  • Ask children what they have already heard about the event.
  • Provide the facts but try not to make judgments about the situation.
  • Avoid upsetting details, and reassure children that people are working hard to make things better for everyone.
  • Don’t pressure kids to talk about the events, but encourage them to share their feelings by talking, drawing or writing.
  • Let children know they can come to you for information and that they are free to ask questions.
  • Remind children that their home is a safe place.
  • Let children know that people may react differently to hard-to-understand events.

Youngsters who aren’t coping well with a tragedy may need extra help, Caudle said.

“Problems with sleeping, changes in appetite or behavior, mood changes and new physical complaints, such as stomach aches and headaches, could — in some children — be a sign that they are having a difficult time coping,” she said. “If this is the case, make sure your child sees a health care professional.”

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more on how to help young people cope withtraumatic events.

Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: Rowan University, news release, November 2017

Last Updated: Nov. 6, 2017

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