Helping kids understand frightening events

Posted on May 25, 2017

Horrific events happen and we are exposed to news of such nature almost everyday. With the advent of technology, it is inevitable that children cannot be totally shielded from learning about horrific events. While they try to digest the news they are exposed to, confusion and misinterpretations are extremely common.

Parents, being the most important people in a child's life, have an important role to play in helping their child understand the world as best as possible, and to allow the child to feel as safe as possible. To do so, however, a parent must first come to terms with his or her own feelings of fears and anxieties. Children who perceive their parents as being capable in coping with stress will be able to be soothed by the parents more effectively. This is supported by a recent research which found that only when parents can deal with painful emotions successfully, then can they help their children with more supportive responses. On the contrary, if the parents themselves are overwhelmed by painful emotions, they may become over-protective and intrusive, and unable to hear their children's emotions. Consequently, their ability to soothe and comfort the child will be adversely affected.

So what can parents do? An easy way to remember how to interact with your child is to STOP, LOOK, and LISTEN.

STOP - To stop whatever that is going on as soon as you realize your child is communicating or acting in an unusual manner.
LOOK - Look at the situation and find clues and possibilities about the causes of the child's bad emotions.
LISTEN - Listen to your child's words and reactions to look for the causes of emotions.

Danger is understood by children differently, depending on the developmental stages that they are in. It is important to see things from their point of view and to position yourself at their level of understanding.
For young children, how adults, especially their parents, react to and deal with stressors is most important. A calm parent usually begets a calm child. For children of school age, they tend to be more independent. During times of stress, they tend to try to continue their normal routine of structure and activities. They focus on what they can do. As such, parents may find it surprising that children in this developmental stage can appear nonchalant in spite of the frightening news. Adolescents, during times of stress, can either become too dependent or too reckless. Parents have to be on the lookout for risk-taking behaviors (e.g. drugs) during such times.

No matter which developmental stage that the child is in, it is important to convey the message that they are safe and protected in spite of the negative events that have occurred. Parents need to instill a sense of safety and be supportive in helping their children express their anxieties and emotions.

Category(s):Child and/or Adolescent Issues, Child Development, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) / Trauma / Complex PTSD

Source material from Psychology Today

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