Helping Children and Families Cope
Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Whether it's a national tragedy or violence in the news, it is important to remember that children process information differently than adults. As a pediatric healthcare provider, Children’s National has resources to help guide and support families during times of tragedy.
What Parents Can Expect from their Children
Children process and respond to traumatic events differently, and parents know their children best. Below are some common reactions, based on age.
Preschoolers (age 2-6)
|Uncontrollable crying||Sensitivity to loud noises|
|Running aimlessly||Confusion and irritability|
|Excessive clinging and fear of being alone||Eating problems|
|Regressive behavior|| |
School-age children (age 7-12)
|Non-specific physical complaints (aches/pains)||Irritability|
|Appetite changes||Whining or clinging|
|Sleep changes||Aggression and questioning authority|
|Withdrawal from peers||Regressive behavior|
Teenagers (age 13-18)
|Non-specific physical complaints (aches/pains)||Excessive fears|
|Appetite changes||Agitation and apathy|
|Sleep changes||Risk-taking behaviors|
|Withdrawal from peers||Disenchantment (“what’s the point?”)|
|Irritability and acting out||Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness|
What Parents Can DoBe Supportive
- Children will benefit greatly from support and caring expressed by the adults in their lives. Create an environment in your home or classroom that encourages respect for each other’s feelings and fears, and allows for a supportive, healing environment.
- Let children know that you are available to talk with them.
- Let children ask questions.
- It is ok if you do not have answers to all the questions. It also is ok to let your child know that you do not have the answer but that you will try and find out.
- Let children know about the support being provided to students, friends, and families of the victims.
- Be aware of children who may have experienced a previous trauma and may be more vulnerable to experiencing prolonged or intense reactions and will need extra support.
- Acknowledge the frightening parts of the event.
- Explain what happened in words that children understand. Explanations should be appropriate to the child’s age, developmental stage, and language skills.
- Reassure children that they are loved and will be taken care of.
- Children who have concerns about siblings who are living on a college campus or have concerns about safety at their own school should be reassured and their concerns validated.
- Be aware of how you talk about the event and cope with the tragedy.
- Children learn about how to react to traumatic situations by watching and listening to parents, peers, and the media.
- Reduce or eliminate your child’s exposure to television images and news coverage of the shooting. The frightening images and repetition of the scenes can be disturbing for children. If they do see coverage, be sure to talk with them about what they saw and what they understood about the coverage. Make sure to correct any misunderstanding or misinterpretations.
- Maintain your child’s routine as best as possible.
Resources for Families
- For children who are too young to talk or do not feel comfortable talking about their feelings, expressive techniques such as play, art and music can provide additional ways for children to express their feelings and let you know what may be troubling them.
We have several resources specific to this event, including:
Resources for Educators and SchoolAdditional Support
We encourage families to use and share our resources as a guide during a difficult time. If you believe your child is having more difficulty than normal, please consult your pediatrician or a trusted counselor for additional support.