Helping kids deal with tragedy of terrorism

In the wake of terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are struggling with feelings of shock, fear and helplessness.

Children are most vulnerable during this time to the effects of the violent images they see on television. It is important for parents to pull themselves away from the news coverage, turn the television off, and talk to their families, according to Dr. Steven Pierrel, a psychologist and an associate professor with the department of family and community medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

“We need to listen to the concerns of our children and learn what meaning they are attaching to these events,” Pierrel said. “It is our responsibility to talk with them, share our perspective and provide a place of comfort and security as they come to grips with these tragic events.”

There are several ways parents and others who care for children can help alleviate the emotional consequences of trauma, including the following tips provided by the American Psychological Association.

• Spend more time with children and let them be more dependent on you during the months following the trauma – for example, allowing your child to cling to you more often than usual. Physical affection is very comforting to children who have experienced trauma.

• Provide play experiences to help relieve tension. Younger children in particular may find it easier to share their ideas and feelings about the event through non-verbal activities such as drawing.

• Encourage older children to speak with you, and with one another, about their thoughts and feelings. This helps reduce their confusion and anxiety related to the trauma. Respond to questions in terms they can comprehend. Reassure them repeatedly that you care about them and that you understand their fears and concerns.

• Keep regular schedules for activities such as eating, playing and going to bed to help restore a sense of security and normalcy.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry also recommends the following guidelines for minimizing the negative effects of watching the news:

• Make sure you have adequate time and a quiet place to talk if you anticipate that the news is going to be troubling or upsetting to the child.

• Ask the child what he or she has heard and what questions he/she may have.

• Provide reassurance regarding his or her own safety in simple words emphasizing that you are going to be there to keep him or her safe.
• Look for signs that the news may have triggered fears or anxieties such as sleeplessness, fears, bedwetting, crying, or talking about being afraid.

“Parents should remember that it is important to talk to your child or adolescent about what he or she has seen or heard,” Pierrel said. “This allows parents to lessen the potential negative effects of the news and to discuss their own ideas and values. While children cannot be completely protected from outside events, parents can help them feel safe and help them to better understand the world around them.”