As a parent, your job is to make sure your kids grow and develop in a safe and healthy environment and reduce the likelihood of childhood trauma. While it’s possible for you to control your immediate environment – your home – it’s simply not possible to shield your from trauma or natural disasters. Even if you don’t allow access to the news or technology unfettered at home, your kids will hear about it at school or through social media. In my area, just this past week, a 15-year-old young lady lost her life in a tragic auto accident. Whether they knew her or not, the entire school was deeply affected by the loss.
As much as we wish these things never happened, protecting our kids from hard truths is not the answer. Parents have to talk to kids about reality, in an age-appropriate manner, of course. Children will hear about terrifying events eventually, and it could scare your child more if you are reluctant to speak with them about it. You can keep these things from becoming a defining childhood trauma if you meet the issue head on with your kids.
Here are some ways you can help your child understand terrifying events:
Try to Stay Calm
Children not only listen to the words you tell them, they, at the very same time, look for your emotional reaction. From this they gauge what is actually going on and how they should react. Even if you don’t say you feel anxious, your kids can feel it.
Though it may be difficult, it’s important that you try and remain as calm as possible to reassure your child, while, at the same time, letting them know it’s okay for them to feel upset. This can be really hard when whatever has happened in the world is upsetting to you. Before talking to your kiddo, work through your own emotion.
Determine What Your Child is Really Worried About
When children hear about scary events, they will have many questions, such as, “Did people die? Why would somebody hurt people? Were they bad people? Will I be killed by a bad person? Are we going to war?” Some children will ask many more questions than this, but what they are really trying to determine is if THEY are safe. The answers you give should be truthful but age-appropriate, with a final assurance that your family is safe. For many teens at the high school mentioned earlier, they just need to talk and be heard. They needed to express fear and sadness and have a caring adult listen to them without trying to make it a life lesson or minimize their feelings.
Keep Your Daily Routines
Scary stuff is unpredictable stuff. Therefore, your child will be reassured by predictability. Stick to your routines as best you can. Along with talking to your children about the events, make sure they have a sense of regularity in their lives.
Seek Professional Help if Necessary
If your child continues to show signs of stress or agitation, it might be a good idea to talk with a licensed mental health professional who can help you navigate how to best help your child. If the traumatic event happened directly to your child (for example, they were at a school where a shooting took place), then the whole family may need professional support to process the experience.
If you or your kiddo is struggling with traumatic events that have taken place, I would be more than happy to discuss how I may be able to help your family. Reach out to me at 919-891-0525 today for a free, 15-minute consultation. Appointments may be scheduled for my Wake Forest counseling office or online.