Here are some ways to help children
cope with fears associated with violent traumatic
events such as bombings and shootings -- whether
the child has been directly involved or has
learned of the event through the media.
- Understanding your child's
- The importance of security
- Helping your child
- Common reactions
- If fears continue
Traumatic events can have profound
effects not only on those who have been injured,
but also on loved ones, survivors, and witnesses.
Extensive media coverage of tragedies means
that the circle of witnesses has expanded to
include those who were not present at the event.
Large-scale tragedies such as bombing incidents
and school shootings can be extremely disturbing
to children, who thrive on predictability and
security. The following information is intended
to help you understand and ease your child's
Understanding your child's
Children who have been exposed
to a traumatic event are afraid of many of the
same things adults are afraid of: that the event
will happen again; that they or their family
will be hurt; or that they will be separated
from family members. They may also have fears
based on misconceptions of what has happened.
The importance of security
Among the most important things
adults can provide for children, at any time,
is an unbroken sense of security and routine.
If your child has been exposed to a traumatic
event, it's important to do as much as you can
to keep disruptions to a minimum and to reassure
him that he is loved, cared for, and protected.
It can be helpful to:
- Reassure your child that
you are there to protect him, and that your
family is safe and together.
- Provide extra physical reassurance.
Hugging, sitting close to read a book, and
back rubs can help restore a child's sense
- Give your child a comforting
toy or something of yours to keep -- a scarf,
a photograph, or a note from you. Your child
may be afraid of separating from you, and
keeping a reminder of you close by can help.
- Be available as much as
you can for talking with and comforting your
child. (If you can, you may want to save phone
calls for after your child's bedtime.)
- If your child's daily routine
has been interrupted, let him know that this
is only temporary. (You will probably need
to repeat this many times.)
Helping your child
Open, thoughtful communication
with your child will help comfort and reassure
her. The following guidelines can help:
- Ask your child what she thinks
has happened. If she has any misconceptions,
this is a chance for you to help her. If a
child knows upsetting details that are true,
don't deny them. Instead, listen closely and
talk with her about her fears.
- Help your child talk about
the event by letting her know that it is normal
to feel worried or upset. Try to listen carefully
and understand what she is really trying to
say. Help younger children use words like
"angry" and "sad" to express
- Try to be patient when your
child asks the same question many times. Children
often use repetition of information as a source
of comfort. Try to be consistent with answers
If your child seems reluctant to talk, ask
her to draw pictures of what happened, and
talk about the pictures with her.
- Encourage a young child
to act out her feelings with toys or puppets.
Don't be alarmed if she expresses angry or
violent emotions. Instead, use the play-acting
to begin a conversation about your child's
worries and fears.
- Talk with your child about
your own feelings, but try to find other adults
to talk with about your anxieties and frustrations.
Children pick up on their parents' emotions,
and will tend to feel more frightened and
helpless if that's how their parents appear.
- Shield your child from graphic
details and pictures in the media. They will
only make her more anxious.
Here are some common reactions
associated with traumatic events and ways to
help your child deal with them:
- Regression. Many children
may try to return to an earlier stage when
they felt safer and more cared for. Younger
children may wet the bed or want a bottle;
older children may fear being alone. It's
important to be patient and comforting if
your child responds this way.
- Thinking the event is their
fault. Children younger than seven or eight
tend to think that if something goes wrong,
it must be their fault -- no matter how irrational
this may sound to an adult. Be sure your child
understands that he did not cause the event.
- Sleep disorders. Some children
have difficulty falling to sleep; others wake
frequently or have troubling dreams. If you
can, give your child a stuffed animal, soft
blanket, or flashlight to take to bed. Try
spending extra time together in the evening,
doing quiet activities or reading. Be patient.
It may take a while before your child can
sleep through the night again.
- Feeling helpless. Powerlessness
is painful for adults and children. Being
active in a campaign to prevent an event like
this one from happening again, writing thank
you letters to people who have helped, and
caring for others can bring a sense of hope
and control to everyone in the family.
If fears continue
Sometimes a child's fears last
long after a traumatic event, interfering with
his enjoyment of everyday life. If your child
has persistent problems with any of the following,
it's important to consult your doctor for a
referral to expert help:
- troubled sleep or frequent
- fear of darkness, imaginary
monsters, or bad people
- fear of going to school,
going outside, or being left alone
- thumb sucking
- unusual quietness, unresponsiveness,
- unusual agitation or aggression
- excessive clinging