Last Friday’s tragic, violent events in Israel and Paris have left us saddened and speechless. Our condolences go out to the families who are suffering: You are in our prayers. As a #pediatrician, father and grandfather, I know that violence can have lasting effect on children, even if they’re learning about it only through the media. After any disaster, parents and other adults struggle with what they should say and share with children and what not to say or share with them. Please allow me to share with you some thoughts.
ASK YOUR CHILD, “WHAT HAVE YOU HEARD? “
This open-ended question holds true no matter what age or developmental stage the child is. Ask them what they’ve heard. Ask them what questions they have. Children as young as 4 years old may hear about these events: It is best if you the #parent speak with them rather than their hearing it from a friend or someone else.
Even young children need information. Saying something like “Something sad happened elsewhere in the world” is too vague and does not give the child an opportunity to understand how this differs from the hurts of everyday life. The underlying message you should convey: “What happened is horrible and I am here to help you understand it.”
Older children, #teens, and young adults might ask more questions and may request and benefit from additional information. After asking your child what they have heard and if they have questions about what occurred during a school #shooting, community bombing, natural disaster, or even a disaster in an international country, a parent can say something such as: “Yes. In [city], [state]” (and here you might need to give some context, depending on whether it’s nearby or far away, for example, ‘That’s a city/state that’s pretty far from/close to here’), there was disaster and many people were hurt. The police and the government are doing their jobs so they can try to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”
A parent can follow-up as needed based on the child’s reactions and questions. But no matter what age the child is, it’s best to keep the dialogue straightforward and direct.
AVOID GRAPHIC DETAILS AND EXPOSURE TO MEDIA
This is easier said than done. Generally, it is best to share basic information with children, omitting the graphic details about tragic circumstances. Both children and adults want enough information to understand what’s going on. Graphic information and images should be avoided.
Keep young children away from repetitive graphic images and sounds that may appear on radio, television, computers and social media.
If older children watch the news, you may wish to watch and record it ahead of time. You can then “screen” through what they’ll see, planning your thoughts. Perhaps when then viewing it, you can stop and discuss points with your teenager.
We live in an era when many children can download news and information from their #phones. As the parent, you need to be proactive and think through what your child might be exposed to and then speak accordingly. Again, exposure to media of any kind can traumatize children further. Efforts should be made to protect children from media violence and to promote resiliency whenever possible.
SIGNS THAT A CHILD MAY NOT BE COPING WELL
- Sleep problems: Watch for trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, difficulty waking up, nightmare, or other sleep disturbances.
- Physical complaints: Children may complain of feeling tired, having a headache, or generally feeling unwell. You may notice your child eating too much or less than usual.
- Changes in #behavior: Look for signs of #regressive behavior, including social regression, acting more immature, or becoming less patient and more demanding. A child who once separated easily from her parents may become clingy. Teens may begin or change current patterns of# tobacco, #alcohol, or substance abuse.
- Emotional problems: Children may experience undue #sadness, #depression, #anxiety, or fears.
Sometimes it can be hard to tell if a child is reacting in a typical way to an unusual event or whether they are having real problems coping, and might need extra support. If you are concerned, talk to your child’ #pediatrician as we are in a unique position to help kids in #crisis. Don’t wait for the signs. Start the discussion early, and keep the dialogue going.
Most important, make your child feel #safe. Hug them. And when they walk out the door, say, “I love you.”
For additional resources, please consult the University of Southern California’s National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement website;http://ehealthmd.contant.what-worry ; and www.schoolclimate.org.
Dr. Hylton Lightman is a pediatrician and Medical Director of Total Family Care of the 5 Towns and Rockaway PC. He can be reached at www.totalfamilycaremd.com, on Instagram at #lightmanpeds or visit him on Facebook.