Limiting the Toxic Effects of Trauma When Tragedy Strikes
The news can be overwhelming for adults, let alone children. It can be especially tough for those parenting babies and young children to hear ongoing news stories of senseless, random violence. The frequent and repeated occurrence of these tragedies can also be hard to bounce back from. This resource is designed to help parents of young children navigate these challenging times.
What You Can Do
Limit access to media, especially images, and avoid talking about frightening events.
Young children take in everything they see and hear in an effort to understand what it all means. They are careful observers, closely attuned to and affected by events happening around them. Limiting children’s access to screens and keeping them away from adult conversations helps protect them.
Get support for yourself so you can manage your own emotions.
Even if your children don’t hear or see anything about the tragedy, they can be affected by your emotional state. Babies as young as 3-5 months old can sense if a parent or caregiver is upset or sad! So, as much as you can, try not to expose young children (even babies) to your worries and anxiety. It’s also important to try to find ways to take care of yourself and manage your own fears during and after stressful events.
Stay as calm as possible when you talk to your child about scary news events.
Toddlers and preschoolers who have heard snatches of media programming or adult conversations may have questions about news events. Follow the American Academy of Pediatrics advice to help answer their questions. When you stay calm, it can lessen a child’s fear and help her feel safe. Answer each question with ‘just enough’ information and avoid scary details. If your child stops asking questions, then stop providing details—even if you haven’t fully explained the situation. Children decide how much information they can take in at a given time.
Create an environment of safety and consistency.
Regular daily routines (meals, child care/school, baths, bedtime, etc.) help children trust and anticipate what will come next. Remember that these routines are important to both babies and older children for feeling safe and secure. If you can, try to limit changes (like switching preschool/child care providers) during this time.
Signs to Look For:
If your child was exposed to media or conversations about a specific event, or is directly impacted through the loss or injury of a family member or caregiver, you may see them exhibit the following behaviors:
- Fear of separation, including clinginess, crying, and whining
- Aggression or violent play
- Creation of dark or scary artwork
- Withdrawn, lethargic or difficult to engage
- More easily frustrated and harder to comfort
- Changes in sleeping and eating patterns
- Regression; such as frequent night-waking, toileting accidents, or thumb-sucking
These are signs that a child is struggling with a scary or traumatic experience and needs additional support. If you or your child continue to struggle with feelings of hopelessness, sadness, or difficult behaviors, reach out to a counselor. You can also ask your child’s health care provider for support.
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