Helping Children Cope with Tragedy
The headlines are everywhere in the newspapers, online and on television. With any tragedy or disaster, UnityPoint Health and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggest parents, caregivers and others who work with children filter information and present it in a way that will help children cope in a healthy way.
How to Start
- Ask children of all ages what they’ve seen and heard. Make sure you listen for misinformation, misconceptions and underlying fears or concerns and address those immediately.
- Ask them what questions they have regarding what they’ve already picked up.
- Avoid graphic details and images being exposed in the media. Keep young children away from television, radio, social media and computers. If parents or caregivers want older children to watch the news, record it. Then, it can be reviewed first and/or paused as it goes along for discussion.
Talking to Very Young Children
- It’s best that they hear about the crisis from a parent or caregiver, not another child or the media.
- Make sure information you provide is accurate and not too vague. Make sure the child understands this is not an everyday, ordinary event.
Talking to Grade-school Children and Teens
- Provide even more specifics about the developing crisis, including the location and a visual display of how far away it is from your home.
- Reaffirm that the police and government are doing their jobs to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Make sure your child/teen knows about the heroic efforts of ordinary citizens to show there can be good, even in the midst of such a horrific event.
The Signs Your Child Isn’t Coping Well
- Sleep problems. This includes nightmares or trouble falling asleep.
- Physical changes. Be cautious of complaints about headaches or feeling tired. Take notice if children are eating less or more than normal.
- Behavior alterations. These changes can include social regression, more demanding demeanor or substance abuse for teens.
- Emotional difficulties. Watch for undue sadness, depression, anxiety or fears.
It’s not always easy to tell if your child is responding in a typical way to crisis events. If you have questions, contact your child’s provider.