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  • Hot Topic: How to Help Children Frightened by News Events

    Author: CYFERnet Parent/Family Editorial Board

    Updated April 2013

    Child development and parent educators say that news coverage of events like the bombing at the Boston Marathon or a mass shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut can frighten children and trigger fears about their own safety. Here are some ways teachers, parents and other caregivers can support children in dealing with traumatic events in the news.

    violent news

    Acknowledge the frightening parts of the event. Reassure children that they are loved and are safe. Children benefit greatly from support and caring expressed by the adults in their lives. Create an environment in your home or classroom that encourages respect for everyone's feelings and emotions.

    Reduce or limit exposure to television images and news coverage. Parents should be aware of how much exposure to this news their children are getting. The frightening images and repetition of the scenes can be disturbing for children. If children do see TV coverage, parents and other caregivers should be willing to talk with them about what they saw. Let children ask questions -- it's OK if you don't have all the answers. What's important is giving them the opportunity to express their fears.

    Let children air their feelings. While the impulse of some adults may be to downplay or avoid the news, it's important to create an environment that will allow children to express their fears. Most child development and parent educators agree on the importance of letting children to be able to talk about their feelings. Having open lines of communication can actually help decrease anxiety and fears.

    Be creative. For children who are too young to talk or do not feel comfortable talking about their feelings, expressive techniques such as play, art and music can provide additional ways for children to express their feelings and let you know what may be troubling them.

    For resources available through CYFERnet on helping children cope with frightening events in the news, see:

    • Family Support in Times of Tragedy
      http://www1.cyfernet.org/hotnew/11-09-FtHood.html
      Resources on CYFERnet that may be of assistance for those of you working with the children, families, survivors, and communities impacted by community /military shootings, violence and terrorism.
    • After a Disaster: A Guide for Parents and Teachers
      http://library.adoption.com/articles/after-a-disaster-a-guide-for-parents-and-teachers.html
      This site provides information on helping and understanding children from preschool to adolescence who have been through disasters.
    • Encouraging Family Communication After a Disaster
      http://cals.arizona.edu/pubs/family/az1341/az1341f.pdf
      This site is meant to inform readers of the importance of family communication after a disaster.
    • National Child Traumatic Stress Network
      http://www.nctsnet.org/trauma-types/terrorism
      The National Child Traumatic Stress Network is funded by the Center for Mental Health Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. Contains links to resources for families, professionals, schools and the media. Includes a special section on terrorism and disaster relief with many resources available in Spanish.
    • Mr. Rogers Advice: "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'"

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