Flipping through channels on the evening news, scrolling through social media, tuning into your local radio station…reports of violence or threats of violence are not far from us at any time. As adults, we see the media reporting the events of the last twenty-four hours and we have a variety of emotional and even physical responses. Your children are doing the same and are turning to you as their support to process what they witness. Below are some tips to help you navigate these delicate and vital conversations.
1. Limit media exposure
As stated above, the media has never been more readily accessible to us. We have wonderful tools for being up to date on current events, but these also provide inappropriate access to events too intense for children to handle. It is impossible and unhealthy to shield our children from all violence and negativity, but we need to filter these developmentally. It is important to be aware of what your child is exposed to in order to be the source of their processing questions or concerns.
2. Be open and receptive to their response.
Your child can trust you to be the safest place to bring questions, fear, anxiety and other responses to witnessing trauma. Although these are difficult for parents to hear from their children, it is important not to give into the temptation to distract or avoid these intense discussions and “just move on”. Giving our child an outlet to express concerns and ask questions is pivotal to their process. It is important for your child to know their responses are normal and that their compassion and empathy are valued.
3. Let them see you react.
Children are the best imitators the world will ever know. They will model what they see in the people they trust the most. Try during this time to keep routines as normal as possible as crisis events can evoke a sense of uncontrolled chaos for your child. Come to conversations with your children as a support after you have had time to process your own crisis response. Share answers or information that is developmentally appropriate for your child and be prepared to say, “I don’t know” when appropriate. Modeling with your words and actions how to respond to crisis is the most effective way to reach your child.
4. Look for the light
As we acknowledge the darkness, the important aspect of this process is seeing the light in contrast. Make sure to spend time with your children acknowledging all the helpers and first responders as compared to the one person doing the harm. Put an emphasis on the effects of those who provide help, comfort and healing in the midst of difficult times. Let them see you praying for the victims and their families and trusting God to be God knowing we are not. Share stories of when God worked an event for good. When it looks like the bad guys are winning it just means the story is not over yet.
5. Remember that love is the surest way to drive out fear.
If your child’s response is anger or asking what they can do to “fight the bad guys”, remember that loving others defies hate and violence. A normal response to an event like a terrorist attack is anger and generalization. Children may associate an isolated event with all large gatherings of people and the assign violence to an entire people group based on the actions of a few. Parents do well to treat isolated events as isolated and not generalize anxiety or fear responses to all similar events or people groups.
*Resources for you and your child*
Children’s books for addressing crisis events can be helpful to process reactions. A couple that have allowed children to explore their emotional responses are;
A Terrible Thing Happened by Margaret M. Holmes and Sasha J. Mudlaff
“This book is meant for children who have witnessed or endured a traumatic experience. Sherman, the protagonist of the story, witnesses an unspecified, horrible thing and begins to have stomach aches and nightmares. He keeps his scary story bottled up, and it affects the way he feels and interacts with others. When his teacher Ms. Maple encourages him to share his emotions, Sherman learns that he can recount what he saw and that talking to a trusted adult can make him feel better.”
Jenny Is Scared: When Sad Things Happen in the World by Carol Shuman
“Shuman’s story begins the conversation between child and caregiver about how to maintain one’s sense of well-being in a challenging world. The book is for young readers who fear violence or terrorism, and focuses on providing them with both short-term and long-term coping mechanisms…”
Please seek professional assistance if your child does not seem to be coping well and/or is exhibiting ongoing behaviors such as;
o Trouble falling/staying asleep, nightmares or other sleep disturbances
o Lack of or significant change in appetite
o Complaints of headaches, stomach-ache or fatigue
o Social regression with peers or increased separation anxiety
o Common fears are heightened or intensified
You can contact us at Genesis Christian Counseling LLC at 314-801-7995 to talk to a caring professional to come alongside you and your child in a difficult time.