Supporting Children When There is Scary News

We wanted to share a great article written by our fellow Human Sciences Family Life Specialist, Malisa Rader. Thank you, Malisa for allowing us to share your words.

All children are born with a unique temperament. Some will be more sensitive to scary news stories or worrisome about their safety and the safety of their loved ones, says Malisa Rader, a family life program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

“We need to be mindful of what we are watching and discussing when small ears are around,” Rader said, “while also making sure we take time to listen and pick up on cues our child might be sending us. A change in behavior like clinginess or crying might be a signal that your child is anxious over recent disturbing events in the news.”

Parents, teachers and caregivers can help children that are feeling distressed about safety cope with their fears, Rader said. She recommends the following actions:

Keep regular routines. Stick to your normal schedule and events. Children take comfort in predictable daily activities like dinner at the kitchen table and bedtime rituals. Knowing what will happen provides a feeling of security.

Watch your emotions. Parents everywhere are shocked and saddened when children are victims of a tragic event. Children that are sensitive to emotions can pick up on this and become concerned for their own safety or the safety of others. When adults maintain a calm and optimistic attitude, children will also.

Have conversations with your child. Find out what your child knows and what questions he or she would like answered. Young children might express themselves through drawing or in their play. Provide reassurance, clear up any misconceptions and point out to your child the many helpful people in emergency events like law enforcement and medical professionals. Talk with your child about what is happening to make him or her safe at home, school or in the neighborhood.

Limit your TV viewing.  Monitor what is on the television set and for how long. Young children may not understand that scenes repeating on news stations are all the same event. Choose a favorite video to maintain better control over what is viewed by your children.

Find healthy ways to deal with feelings. Taking a walk together, reading a favorite book, or playing a board game can be comforting to both you and your child.

Take action. If your child continues to show concern, he or she may be feeling a loss of control. Doing something such as sending a donation or writing a letter can help bring back a sense of power and help your child feel a part of the response.

Seek professional advice if needed. If your child shows symptoms of distress such as a change in appetite or sleep patterns, speak with your child’s physician or a mental health professional. You can also contact ISU Extension and Outreach’s Iowa Concern hotline at 1-800-447-1985.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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