In the days and weeks following a high-profile tragedy such as the Newtown, Connecticut school shootings or the Moore, Oklahoma tornado leveling schools and neighborhoods , kids may have a lot of questions about whether something like this could happen to them. In fact, parents themselves may have a lot of worries about the safety of raising children in this world. It's normal for both adults and kids to feel anxious after such a publicly devastating event, but there are things you can do to minimize the stress and maintain a sense of normalcy.
Here are some tips from psychologists.
It's Normal to Be Concerned. Youngsters who have
heard or seen news reports about disturbing events may be reluctant to
return to the classroom and other public spaces. Moms and dads may even
feel anxious about dropping their kids off at day care or school, after
hearing about tragedies that happen to children. "Parents are following
instincts to be alarmed and to be fearful," says nationally certified
school psychologist Eric Rossen, Ph.D. But Rossen stresses that we need
to remember these are isolated incidents. "It's important to continue to
remember that this is such a rare event, statistically and objectively
speaking. It's hard to bear because it's so rare."
Take a News Break. While you may be interested in
watching twenty-four-hour news for all the latest developments, your
children may not be able to handle that. The American Psychological
Association recommends limiting the amount of time spent watching news
reports, as constant exposure may actually heighten their anxiety and
Answer Kids' Questions – Without Giving Them Unnecessary Details.
Even if you limit news exposure in your home, chances are your kids may
hear details—accurate or not—on the playground. When they return to
school after a national tragedy, it's a good idea to ask what they've
"A lot of times, children misunderstand what's happening," says
Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D., author of "Smart Parenting for Smart Kids.”
"For example, if they saw a picture of men carrying guns, it looked
like there was a lot of them. Let them know the gunman is not in our
backyard. This is not something that's happening at many different
And if kids have questions, Rossen says the key is to answer—not
avoid—them without giving too much information. As parents we must remember, we do not need to provide the graphic details nor share the images. Answer the question and support your child by reassuring them that tragedies and natural disasters of this magnitude are rare. At which point, you can discuss your "family plan" for emergencies and turn the tragedy into a pro-active family activity by including your children.
Maintain a Regular Schedule. While it may be
tempting to keep your kids close to your side after a devastating event,
child psychologists agree that sticking to a regular routine helps kids
to get past their distress. "By bringing our children to school, we are
communicating a very important message about courage and resilience,
about going on despite terrible things that happen," says Kennedy-Moore.
For preschoolers, talk them through their day using very concrete
examples, such as, "You're going to be with Mrs. Smith, and she's going
to be in charge of you. Daddy's going to get back at lunch, and we'll go
to the playground."
Pay Extra Attention to Your Kids. When you are at
home with your children, make sure to be engaged with them. The National
Association of School Psychologists recommends that parents focus on
their children during the week following a tragedy, including spending
some extra time reading or playing with kids before bed, to foster a
sense of closeness and security.
Model Confidence and Assurance. Don't forget that
you are your child's role model during times of stress. Kennedy-Moore
explains, "Children look to their parents to see how scared they should
be." Of course, if you are feeling anxious, make time to address your
own needs, such as talking to friends or family or seeking guidance from
religious leaders or counselors.
Find Solace or Take Action. Even children can feel
better by doing something, whether it's a spiritual pursuit, a political
activity or just an act of kindness. Look for activities that are
age-appropriate. "Find a child-sized way to take action," says
Kennedy-Moore, "saying a prayer together, or raising money, or signing a
petition, or sending a card or letter."
Signs of More Than Normal Stress. Watch for signs of
excessive fear or anxiety in the next few weeks. According to the
American Psychological Association, signs of stress in children can
include trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating on school work, or
changes in appetite. If those symptoms last for more than a week or two,
ask your child's teachers if they are observing the same thing and
consult your school psychologist or pediatrician.
Focus on the Positive. Experts, from psychologists
to religious leaders, remind us to focus on the good. For starters,
remember how unusual these tragedies are. "Statistically speaking, it's
safer for them to be in a school than for a parent to put them in a
car," says Rossen.
Tough times can be a reminder for us to cherish our family and loved
ones each day. Kennedy-Moore reminds us, "There is more joy than sorrow
Writtenby Grace Hwang Lynch: writer, consultant, and mom based in the San
Francisco Bay Area. She blogs about Asian fusion family and food at
Edited by Anthony Gonzalez for Child Quest International