How to help children deal with traumatic events

18 October 2017

Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta

It’s been difficult to escape recent media coverage of catastrophic hurricanes, terrorist attacks and shootings. As adults, we all respond differently to traumatic events and it is the same for children. It is not always easy for parents to talk to their child about tragic events but it is important that they do. Children need to know that it is okay to talk about these things and to share feelings, even if the events are scary or sad.

Young children in particular need a lot of physical and emotional support, particularly if they feel like an event is close to home. Managing their access to news media is important because repeated exposure builds anxiety. Answer their questions honestly but do so in a way that is at their level of emotional and developmental understanding.

Health professionals recommend that families maintain normal routines around eating and bed times. Children get a lot of comfort from predictability so while they need to be able to express feelings, they also need to be encouraged to participate in their regular activities.

If young children do see something on TV that affects them, parents can also help focus on the acts of bravery or the positive actions by police, ambulance and firefighters. This may help to offset the any negative impact.

Older children may have a lot more questions but they may also try to downplay their anxiety or fears about the event. Always keep the lines of communication open and let them know that you are around when they need to talk. Remember also that older children may have access to social media and to images that may be particularly distressing. As always, keep watch for any significant changes around their behaviour or emotional wellbeing. Even with older children, parents have a role to play in helping them to manage their access to news.

Parents are best placed to understand how their children will react to events. If you do have concerns, seek out advice from your school or a health professional like your GP. Schools can provide support when an event occurs that impacts either on a class or school community.

Greg Whitby

Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta

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