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Helping Kids Cope in an Uncertain World

Helping Kids Cope in an Uncertain World

Bali bombings, planes missing, Brussels, Paris, and Madrid. Lindt Café, 9/11, what Bin Laden did.

These words, which sound like an extra verse of Billy Joel’s hit song “We Didn’t Start the Fire”, summarise the violence that has marked the new millennium. They also remind us that the threat of terrorism has become part of our modern life: a new fear that adults have had to adjust to, and something that has existed as long as our children and young people can remember.

As adults we struggle to make sense of terrorism, the tragic loss of innocent lives and the pain and suffering caused to so many people since the “war on terror” began. 

It’s hard not to be distressed by the graphic images and eyewitness accounts that engulf our smartphones, laptops, newspapers and airwaves every time one of these tragic events occur.

And you can’t blame parents for wanting to shield their children from exposure to these confronting news stories. But this has become increasingly difficult when access to the 24-hour news cycle is only a “click away” for many children and adolescents. And the reality is that conversations about these events are as common in the school playground as they are in the workplace.

But parents are wise in wanting to limit and monitor their children’s exposure to these horrific events. Numerous studies confirm that these traumatic news stories can have a negative impact on children and adolescents, making them anxious and frightened. And the way young people react to these incidents depends on their age and capacity to understand the event, its causes and consequences.

So what can parents do to help their children cope with the intense media coverage of terrorist attacks, plane crashes and other disasters? What should they be telling their children in the aftermath of events like the recent Brussels bombings?

The consensus from the experts is that whatever the age of your children, the one thing they need from you in the days and weeks that follow these events, is your time. As much as possible, they need you to be available to answer their questions and reassure them. Other advice for parents includes:

Look after yourself and be aware of your own actions.                                Resources:
Children take their cues from you. You can help your child learn to                    Information & Fact Sheets          

cope by showing how you have learnt yourself.

Comfort your child and give frequent assurance of safety and
security (but do not give false assurance). 
Spend more time communicating with your children so that they
have more opportunities to let you know what is on their mind. And
remind them that there are plenty of good things happening in the world,
but these often don't make the news.                                                               

Deal with feelings.                                                                                       What would you do if ...? 
Encourage your children to express their feelings and let them know 
it is normal to feel sad or upset. Be with them when they are seeing
  
or reading media stories so you can talk to them about their fears and 

answer any questions

Teach your child how to cope.
When your child is ready and willing to talk about a disturbing event,
use this as an opportunity to teach coping strategies. When talking
about traumatic events, give children simple, factual information. 
Don’t be afraid to admit that you can’t answer all their questions.
And try not to focus on blame. Consult with an expert like the school 
counselor or therapist if you sense that your child is becoming anxious 
  
or overly fearful.

Monitor your child’s exposure to coverage of the event                            Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800
You may also need monitor your child's reaction. Look out for ongoing    

physical signs, sleep troubles, worries or fears that suggest your child 
could benefit from professional help.

Originally appeared in the CCSP column in the Catholic Weekly

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