These days, it is all too common to turn on the news and see and hear tragedy after tragedy. Sometimes, it might seem like every week there is a mass shooting or environmental disaster. While this can be difficult to deal with as an adult, it is often even more of a challenge for children to process. Many times, children become scared that this type of event is likely to happen to them and they become obsessed with the notion that they are in danger. While it might be difficult to eliminate your child’s exposure to violent news stories entirely, parents CAN take steps to help children cope with disturbing footage.
What can parents do to help children deal with news-related violence?
• Talk about it! If your child becomes worried about something she saw on TV, acknowledge her feelings and offer comfort. You could say something like, “I understand that you are upset about what you saw. But, I want you to know that I am here to keep you safe! If you ever feel unsafe, you can always come to me for help.”
• Discuss safety measures in place. While we as adults know that traumatic events can happen, it’s important to reassure children that these events are rare and that safety measures are in place to help keep people safe. For example, you might mention ways that you as a parent keep your child safe in everyday life, such as walking her to school each morning to make sure she arrives safely or by locking the doors of your house to keep the family safe and secure each night.
• Listen or read about the news instead of watching it on TV. Reducing the amount of graphic images and video-footage that children see can help lessen the impact of a violent news story. It is also easier to stop reading or listening to a story vs. viewing disturbing images on TV because we have more control over the speed at which we receive the information. While we can stop reading abruptly, we often don’t know what images will appear on the screen and once they are viewed, it might be difficult to stop thinking about them.
• Ground your child if she becomes really upset. Calm your child and talk about what is happening in the present moment. Say things like, “We are safe. We are not in a flood, fire, etc. We are sitting in our living room together, reading a book.” Next, think of something to take your child’s mind off the scary thought. You might suggest a happy activity such as playing with playdoh or painting a funny picture together. These types of activities engage your child’s body and mind with something positive.
• Reduce the amount of times your child views traumatic events. Multiple news channels often show the same story. Sometimes, young children might not understand that this is the same event, just shown on different channels. For example, a large factory fire might have only affected one actual building, but if a child sees this same story on multiple channels, she might interpret that to mean many buildings have caught fire, over and over again.
In addition to the above ideas for helping children deal with violence in the news, you can also identify safety measures they can take to feel secure when they are away from family. For instance, you might suggest they speak to a certain teacher if they are bothered by something at school or call home to be picked up from a friend’s house if they feel uncomfortable. Limiting a child’s exposure to violence in the news and also empowering her to speak with a trusted adult if she feels unsafe can help her work through anxious feelings and process the world around her.
How have you helped your child cope with unsettling stories in the news?