Do you have the news going on the TV while you’re getting dinner ready for the kids—or listen it on the radio while driving them home from school?
If so, there’s a chance your children might need a little help at times, processing some of the tragic events dominating the headlines.
Both the Australian Psychological Association, and Focus on the Family Australia, have put together resources and tip-lists to help parents work through traumatic world events with their children.
After the latest terror attacks in London, clinical and trauma psychologist Dr Rob Gordon chatted to Hope 103.2’s Laura and Duncan.
Wait Until the Children are Ready
The kind of conversation you have with your children will depend on their age. And if they’re only four or five years old, don’t start a discussion with them about tragic events, like war and terrorism, unless they are aware of it.
If they are showing no signs of awareness, the news may not be registering in their little minds yet.
“We don’t want to burden young children with risks they’re not aware of yet, unless they’re in their immediate environment,” said Dr Gordon.
If they’re a little older and more aware, it’s OK to explore how they are feeling.
“If the family is watching television or listening to the radio and something comes on, I would say for kids after the age of about seven or eight, say to them, ‘What do you think about that?’”
Put World Tragedies in Context
The younger children are, the more help they will need putting world events in context.
“We have to spell out the obvious for them,” Dr Gordon says. “Tell them, ‘This is a long way away, it’s in another country, it’s not happening in Australia’, and so on.
“We’ve got to make clear that we live with risks all the time. The most dangerous thing in childrens’ lives will be when their parents drive them to school, and yet we still do it comfortably—because it’s familiar, we’ve got rules and ways in which we can drive safely, and we’ve got a sense of control because we understand the problem. And the same goes for sharks and snakes and redback spiders.
“So we add terrorism to that list, and we teach them about it.”
Watch for Signs of Stress
If your children are stressed and troubled about what’s going on in the world, they may show signs like being afraid of going outside, talking about terrorists or bad people, having bad dreams and needing reassurance at bed time.
There may also be more subtle signs, such as a general uncertainty and anxiety, or a sudden increase in shyness and independence.
“If there’s a sudden change, just stop and think if it’s connected [to events in the news], and open up the conversation,” Dr Gordon said.
Tips for Parents and Carers
Tips for parents and carers from the Australian Psychological Association and Focus on the Family, for helping children deal with tragedies and traumas, include:
- Talk about what happened at a level that children can understand. Avoid gruesome details but give enough truthful, simple information to clear up any misinformation.
- Encourage children to talk about their thoughts and feelings.
- Look out for signs of distress.
- Maintain good routines.
- Talk to them about the helpers and heroes that help make the world a better place.
- Foster hope.
- Limit the amount of media you allow in your home and car about tragic events, so they don’t become overburdened.
- Allow them to ask questions and use accurate terminology – eg use the word ‘died’ instead of euphemisms such as ‘passed’ or ‘gone to sleep’.