With the world sending their thoughts to Newtown, Conn., in the aftermath of the most recent school shooting, many parents and child care workers are having to explain and comfort their own children. According to the publication Little Listeners in an Uncertain World: Coping Strategies for You and Your Young Child after Traumatic Events, the role of parents is to protect children and sometimes that is from the outside news. Keep the following in mind:
- Turn off TV and radio news reports; don’t leave newspapers lying around.
- Ask friends and family not to discuss the scary event around your child.
- Maintain your child’s regular routine. Behaviors you might see in young children who have been exposed to a traumatic event:
- Increased clinginess, crying and whining
- Greater fear of separation from parents
- Increase in aggressive behavior
- More withdrawn and harder to engage
- Play that acts out scary events
- Changes in sleeping and eating patterns
- More easily frustrated and harder to comfort
- A return to earlier behaviors, like frequent night-wakening and thumbsucking
What you can do:
- Respond to your child’s need for increased attention, comfort and reassurance. This will make him feel safer sooner.
- Pay close attention to your child’s feelings and validate them. Ignoring feelings does not make them go away.
- Help your child identify her feelings by naming them (scary, sad, angry, etc.).
- Offer your child safe ways to express feelings, such as drawing, pretend play, or telling stories.
- Don’t discourage your child’s play because you find it disturbing. Young children work through frightening events by reenacting them through play. If your child seems to be distressed by his play, comfort him and redirect him to another activity.
- Be patient and calm when your child is clingy, whiny, or aggressive. He needs you to help him regain control and feel safe.
- Answer children’s questions according to their level of understanding: “Yes, a bad thing happened but we are keeping you safe.”
MARSHA O. PARKER is the Christian County extension agent for family and consumer sciences. She can be reached at 270-886-6328.