Children understand everything they hear and see around them. Probably not in the way we adults perceive reality around us, but in their own unique way. And when they hear the news, the shocking, terrible news on the TV, they get the feeling that something bad is happening, or is going to happen (even if they don't understand the details of it). And they are scared. Terrified. And they don't feel safe anymore. Especially when they see their own parents feeling the same way, they feel helpless.
Children sometimes lack perspective of the world around them. They hear about something that happened in India while they live in Oslo, and they feel that this is happening ...next door. They cannot understand how big the world is or how far from them is what happened. They even think that if they move to another house, they will feel safe again. Listen and attend to their need: safety.
Helping Children Cope with Fear: 5 Steps
There are several techniques we can employ to help our children, young family members, or students feel less afraid and anxious. Here we share some handy tips for supporting children and making them feel safe again.
Observe and Start a Dialogue
Make sure you monitor the child's reactions when they hear the news or witness an event. Even if they don't say much, they do feel a lot and they imagine even more. They might just find it difficult to express. For this reason, you should be the one that explains what happened. If you let them be informed by the TV, or other children, their imagination will go wild, and the effect will be overwhelming. On the other hand, if you sit with them and talk about what happened, you can see what is their main focus and what aspects of the event concerns them more. Search for the hidden questions that might be plaguing their minds.
Don't Dismiss their Thoughts & Feelings
When you start a dialogue, you have the opportunity to learn what they heard and how they feel about it. Don't judge their feelings. Don't dismiss their fears. Rather, accept and explore them. It's OK to feel sad. It's OK to feel scared. It's OK to feel confused. You are not expected to have a clear mind immediately after the shocking news.
Here is a useful article on Talking to Children about Cancer
You as a parent CAN be sad as well. Sad, but calm. Children absorb all emotions, so if you handle your sadness with a calm way, they will copy that. If, on the other hand, you deal with your sadness or fear, with a dramatic, catastrophizing way, then the children will absorb that, and they will act likewise. But for them, once they get onto that "vehicle", it's difficult to step off it. They will dream about it, think about it, get overwhelmed and it will probably remain inside them as a quite traumatic experience.
As Gabor Mate said, "Trauma is not what happens to you. It's what happens inside you becuase of what happened to you". Understanding a child's trauma or internal emotional experience is integral here.
Help Them Express Their Feelings
Let the feelings flow. You don't have to talk about it. Draw it. Sing it. Tell stories about it. Playing is the easiest way for children to let their thoughts and feelings come out. Use that tool, and make the most out of it. It will surprise you how much you can learn. If feelings start bubbling up, reassure them that you will protect them whatever happens. Remind them that there are always good people around us, not only people that want to hurt us.
Be mindful and respect their developmental level. Young children don't need all the details of the terrible event. They only need to feel safe and secure again. Teenagers, on the other hand, are looking for the details, because they want to rationalize their feelings and make sense of what happened. Even if they don't ask you to talk to them about the news, don't assume they are OK. Initiate a discussion. Adjust to their needs and help them accordingly. They will respect and appreciate that.
After all the talking and the sharing takes place (even though sometimes you will need to come back to it because the children will have more questions...), provide some kind of closure to the children. Memorialize the lost people, make a drawing about the lost one, share stories, light up candles and blow them, and at the same time, blow away the fear and the pain. For older children, some action can also be therapeutic. Helping others, volunteering, and keeping routines can help children heal and build resilience. That way you remind them that life goes on. And that the Good will always win over the Bad.
Source: Child Mind Institute
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