Help for parents and children coping with tragic events

When tragic events occur, our adult tendency to remain glued to the television or computer screen for continual updates may not serve our children well. Given the numerous and ongoing recent tragedies in our own community and across the country, I’m reaching out to parents and caregivers to encourage you to closely monitor your children’s exposure to television, internet and other types of media blasts surrounding these events.

Most important to remember is that children do not possess adult coping strategies! Like adults, children take in the images, sights, and sounds occurring on their television screen or computer monitor. Unlike adults, young children do not possess the cognitive or “mental” capacity to make sense of these events nor do they possess the language skills to discuss these events. Older children may understand that these events are remote, yet may also experience intense fear that these events will happen in their own community. Adolescents possess cognitive capacities similar to adults, thus it is important to remember that they do have the ability to express their experience through language and that they need to be provided the opportunity to do so.

Below are a few tips and strategies to help both you and your children when tragic events occur:

  • Limit television and internet exposure based on the age and stage of your child’s development.
  • Give yourself and your children a break from tragic images, sights and sounds by turning off your television or computer monitor on a regular basis. Allow for quiet time in your home.
  • Allow older children the opportunity to talk to you about their understanding of these events – many well meaning caregivers talk to their children about events, yet may overlook the importance of allowing children to share their experience of these events.
  • Know your child’s strategies for coping and provide your child with those opportunities! Young children most often cope with stress through their natural medium – play. Once again, it is critically important to remember that most children do not possess the language capacity to “talk out” their experience.
  • Give your children opportunities to play! Play with them!
  • Know when your own capacity to cope is overwhelmed. Model the skills you wish your child to learn. Show your children that taking a break from stressful events (and the television) is important.
  • Look for signs of overwhelm in your child. Young children may exhibit regressive behavior – in other words, they may appear to go back to an earlier stage of development. Middle years children may engage in repetitive play or speech. Adolescents may withdraw or exhibit sudden changes in attitude or behavior. Once again, it is important to provide older children with the opportunity to talk to you about their understanding of events. Children across every age and stage of development may complain of physical ailments such as headaches or stomach aches when overwhelmed.

Most important to remember is that children do not possess the coping capacities of adults. Should you begin to see changes in your child’s behavior that do not dissipate, seek help from a qualified, licensed therapist specifically trained to work with children.

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Written by Dena L. Moore, Ph.D., LPC-S

Dr. Dena Moore is a full-time therapist at The Center for Health and Healing, located at 541 Julia Street, Ste. 201, New Orleans, LA. Dr. Moore is licensed as a Professional Counselor and Board Approved Counselor Supervisor in Louisiana.

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