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How to Help Your Kids Cope With Tragedies in the News

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Hard as you may try, it’s virtually impossible to shield kids from news of atrocities and natural disasters. Here’s what to do when the unexplainable happens.
How to Help Your Kids Cope With Tragedies in the News

Some days it seems as if mass shootings, toxic spills, and suicide bombers are making news with alarming frequency. And chances are your school-age child will learn about these shocking global events, whether you discuss them at home or not.

Given today’s lightening fast communications, you can pretty much bet that if your kids aren’t hearing about these tragedies at school, they’re seeing pictures on the web or nightly TV news, or picking up on your comments when you think they’re occupied in the other room.

The problem is, even just hearing about tragic events can trigger stress and anxiety in children.

Kids may worry about their own safety, whether mom’s office is secure, or whether it’s okay for dad to book a flight for an upcoming business trip.

Today, most experts believe you should consider talking to your kids about disturbing events, as their worries won’t go away simply because you choose to ignore them. However, experts say, the comments you make should be tailored to your child’s age, personality, ability to understand language, and level of emotional development.

Try these three tips:

  1. When tragedy strikes, give your child time to express her fears—and really listen to what she’s saying. Putting worries into words makes fears more manageable. Ask yourself: Is my child looking for more information? Is she afraid a similar event can strike here? Take time to reassure her that the adults around her are working very hard to protect her and her family. Pay attention to your child’s impression of the events and gently correct misconceptions.
  2. Monitor your own anxiety. Children are often keenly aware of how the adults around them handle upsetting information. The way you respond to stress will impact your kids’ reactions. Use simple terms to explain how you feel and select your words carefully to explain what you are doing to cope with stressful situations. Model constructive behavior: remain calm, gather information, and stay in touch with family and community members. Maintain routines whenever possible.
  3. Help older kids process emotions by supporting their interest in recovery and other efforts. Look for age-appropriate stories and books about similar occurrences. Check online resources for local programs and national campaigns aimed at emergency initiatives. Brainstorm together and settle on an action that is safe, grade-appropriate, and achievable, such as donating clothing, toys, books, furniture, funds, and household goods to communities in need. Being a helper helps everyone.

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