Violence, such as the terrorist attacks in Paris on the innocent people on Friday night, can leave lasting impressions on children, even if they only witness it through news reports and social media.
But you as parents can help your children process these and other senseless tragedies. It’s important to talk about terrible events, and to keep up a healthy home routine, give extra hugs to little ones, and reach out to people in need or those touched by the recent events.
For all ages, children are processing the same overall issues, but the perspective children have, and the way they respond, will vary based on their age and maturity and personality.
They will look to you for reassurance and comfort so it’s important that you appear confident.
In the wake of a traumatic event, children will naturally worry that something like it will happen to them or to the people they care about.
Preschool children and younger children may see images on the news and see life very literally and they may worry that it’s happening very nearby – so make it very clear where France is, that it’s very far away, that you have to take a plane to go there. So your younger child feels the sense of detachment and distance from the events.
However, very young children may not be aware of what’s going on at all so don’t introduce the events to them at all as they will not understand.
Be sensible and use common sense and take care with the images that your children see and hear about.
Listening well is the simple key. Gauge where your child is, and based on that, you can gently correct any misinterpretations or misinformation they may have heard and guide them back to the facts. Talk and Teach. Don’t do drama it will frighten your child. But most importantly, ask them how they are feeling about what they heard.
You are teaching your values and beliefs about life to your children so focus on the people pulling together to help each other and more positive types of imagery so the event is put into context.
With school-age children, the likelihood is high that they’ll be exposed to discussions and media reports about the events in Paris. Perhaps other children at school will be talking about it, or older brothers and sisters.
If they don’t bring it up themselves, I suggest that you make a point to initiate the conversation. Ask them a little about what they’ve heard, or say, ‘What an awful thing that’s happened,’ or ‘I’m having a hard time getting my head around it.’ Or, ‘Let’s talk about what you’ve heard and seen on the news about Paris’
Those open ended types of questions become an opportunity to talk about it together. But don’t assume that the way you understand events will be the same as the way your children interpret events. So my advice is to keep on asking for clarification or even reflecting back and saying ‘ So am I right that this is what I’m hearing you say about it?’
It’s an opportunity to talk with your children about how to handle all kinds of stress, media coverage and terrifying events. So maintain your routines as that helps your child feel safe, secure, comforted and normal.
When it comes to older children and teens, they will have more exposure to news and media and may understand the political issues better and they may ask if something like the Paris attacks could happen closer to home. They may be upset, concerned, and want to talk about coping strategies.
You can talk about the steps schools and communities take to make sure they’re safe in their schools and in their towns. But you can’t be unrealistic and say there is no risk but talk to them about being vigilant and aware of what’s going on around them – without scaremongering.
Acknowledge that it is scary and distressing and upsetting.
Figure out strategies and approaches that help your older children to deal with distress. That’s an important skill set. A lot of parents don’t want to upset their children and they think it’s a good idea to hide their stress but in doing so, you’re also hiding you’re coping strategy.
Again listening is the important part here. Don’t tell your children how they are supposed to feel. But do help them to deal with that feeling.
With older children who have lots of access to media and social media, teaching them how to limit exposure to the violence is important, too. A good rule of thumb for them – If you’re watching a news story or social media coverage and you’re no longer learning something new or taking in information that will help you cope with the event, you need to turn it off.
I know personally how easy it is to keep the news on a loop but it just reinforces the terror.
Just because we can take a picture, capture a video or sent a Whatsapp doesn’t mean we ought to do it all the time. In general when there’s been a major crisis, it’s a good time to turn off some of the media and social media and focus on being together as a family and being with each other.
If older kids want to watch the news, watch with them and pause reports to stop and discuss issues you think are important, or to hear their thoughts and feelings.
I use Emotional Freedom Technique or “Tapping” with the children, parents & adults I work with to remove the trauma and anxiety – click here to download my free ebook EFT Questions and Answers or call me on 01883 818329 to arrange your personal session with me.