Helping Kids Cope with Traumatic News Events

Helping Kids Cope with Traumatic News Events

Last week’s news of violence and rioting at the U.S. Capitol building has shaken us all, regardless of political affiliation. The uncertainty, worry and fear many of us are experiencing is also impacting our kids, and many parents are struggling with how they can help them navigate this troubling situation.

“Much of what you say to your children should depend on their age,” says Vanessa McMullan, Supervisor at our Marks Family Right from the Start 0-3+ Center. “For younger children, your focus should be on letting them know they are safe and that you are there to help them.”

Children under age seven shouldn’t be exposed to news media, especially information that may be traumatic. Of course, that doesn’t mean they won’t hear about troubling events—perhaps on a news preview on television, from friends at school or overhearing conversations from the people around them.

“Kids are always listening,” says McMullan. “Even if we think they don’t understand what we’re talking about, they hear it and are trying to make sense of what they’re hearing.”

So what’s a parent to do? “Ask your children what they already know, and provide simple information in a comforting way,” says McMullan. “They pick up on your energy, so it’s important that you remain as calm as possible.”

Also, be sure that you are giving yourself a break from the news and practicing self-care so you don’t get overwhelmed. “It’s understandable that you want to stay informed, but to be the best parent for your kids, you need to take care of yourself, too,” she says. 

Older children and teens will likely be exposed to more information and have more nuanced questions and responses to events such as the ones we saw last week, as well as any kind of traumatic occurrence. 

Encourage them to share their thoughts with you and to express their emotions, which may range from fear and confusion to sadness and anger. Let them know their feelings are normal and that you are there to listen. Give them information that is fact-based, sharing news and information resources that you trust. 

For kids of any age, news events provide you with opportunity to share your values with them. For example, with Martin Luther King Jr. Day coming up next week, perhaps you can speak with your kids about issues such as diversity, discriminationracism, non-violence, activismvolunteerism and other pertinent topics. 

North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center has been there for children and families during crises of many sorts since our founding in 1953, including Hurricane Sandy, the attacks of 9/11 and the more recent COVID-19 pandemic. We are currently providing remote therapy and, when needed, in-person sessions. Reach out to us at (516) 626-1971 for help, and remember, we never turn anyone away for inability to pay.

Below are some tips on how to handle media coverage from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network:

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