"Media depictions can be frightening, confusing and even traumatic to young children because they are often unable to determine when and where an event they see on TV is taking place."
Charlotte Cole, Ph.D.
V.P. Education and Research, Sesame Workshop
Violent and scary new events may disturb your child in clear (and sometimes confusing ways). Here’s how you can help recognize the signs and soothe the fears:
Be prepared for children to show signs of stress. Children may express fears through actions rather than words. Some may have nightmares, become clingy, jump at loud noises or have more difficulty saying goodbye. Preschoolers and even school-age children may regress into thumb-sucking or have more tantrums; a child who is usually outgoing may become shy. Teenagers, who may normally be defiant, might grow even more distant or removed.
Know that children may be stressed even if they are not showing it. "Be aware that even if your child is NOT showing these signs, he still could be affected by his awareness of war and violence," says Susanna Neumann, Ph.D. "Don't wait for concrete signals."
Provide extra nurturing, warmth and security at home. "Studies looking at the impact of living in a war zone on children have found that having an uninterrupted, safe and secure relationship with an adult can help reduce the negative impact of the violence," says Diane Levin, Ph.D.
Maintain routines, offer lots of hugs, and talk and play together. Try to continue day-to-day life on schedule, because this provides a sense of continuity and security. To provide additional reassurance, Dr. Stanley Greenspan, author of The Secure Child, suggests parents make themselves available for special one-on-one time with each of their children. "Taking a number of 20-30 minute intervals throughout the day when a parent is available to his or her child for imaginative play, other activities or even just 'hang-out time' creates a sense of security, intimacy, and involvement."
Brainstorm what you can do to help. Whether the news event is a natural disaster, a far-away war, or a catastrophe close to home, there are many actions kids can take to demonstrate their caring and develop a sense of personal responsibility. Ask your child what he might want to do, and offer concrete suggestions like selecting toys and clothing to donate, raising money to rebuild homes, and writing letters to politicians.