We hope these free trauma resources will be of assistance in a trying time, and that you will share them with anyone you think might benefit. And remember to take care of yourself; your children depend on you most of all.
When communities experience episodes of violence or face natural disasters these events are hard even for adults to comprehend. We can’t shield our children from pain and fear when they’re exposed to such tragedy. But we can help them process what they’re experiencing in the healthiest way possible.
The Child Mind Institute has prepared free trauma resources to aid parents, educators, and other adults in talking to children and adolescents about potentially traumatic events and identifying those who might benefit from more focused professional attention. Our children can be more sensitive to challenges around them because of their life experience and they need our support.
In today’s world, parents are faced with the challenge of explaining violence, terrorism and war to children. Although difficult, these conversations are extremely important. They give parents an opportunity to help their children feel more secure and understand the world in which they live. The following information can be helpful to parents when talking through these issues with children:
Listen to Children:
- Create a time and place for children to ask their questions. Don’t force children to talk about things until they’re ready.
- Remember that children tend to personalize situations. For example, they may worry about friends or relatives who live in a city or state associated with incidents or events.
- Help children find ways to express themselves. Some children may not be able to talk about their thoughts, feelings, or fears. They may be more comfortable drawing pictures, playing with toys, or writing stories or poems directly or indirectly related to current events.
Answer Children’s Questions:
- Use words and concepts your child can understand. Make your explanation appropriate to your child’s age and level of understanding. Don’t overload a child with too much information.
- Give children honest answers and information. Children will usually know if you’re not being honest.
- Be prepared to repeat explanations or have several conversations. Some information may be hard to accept or understand. Asking the same question over and over may be your child’s way of asking for reassurance.
- Acknowledge and support your child’s thoughts, feelings, and reactions. Let your child know that you think their questions and concerns are important.
- Be consistent and reassuring, but don’t make unrealistic promises.
- Avoid stereotyping groups of people by race, nationality, or religion. Use the opportunity to teach tolerance and explain prejudice.
- Remember that children learn from watching their parents and teachers. They are very interested in how you respond to events. They learn from listening to your conversations with other adults.
- Let children know how you are feeling. It’s OK for them to know if you are anxious or worried about events. However, don’t burden them with your concerns.
- Don’t confront your child’s way of handling events. If a child feels reassured by saying that things are happening very far away, it’s usually best not to disagree. The child may need to think about events this way to feel safe.
- Don’t let children watch lots of violent or upsetting images on TV. Repetitive frightening images or scenes can be very disturbing, especially to young children.
- Help children establish a predictable routine and schedule. Children are reassured by structure and familiarity. School, sports, birthdays, holidays, and group activities take on added importance during stressful times.
- Coordinate information between home and school. Parents should know about activities and discussions at school. Teachers should know about the child’s specific fears or concerns.
- Children who have experienced trauma or losses may show more intense reactions to tragedies or news of war or terrorist incidents. These children may need extra support and attention.
- Watch for physical symptoms related to stress. Many children show anxiety and stress through complaints of physical aches and pains.
- Watch for possible preoccupation with violent movies or war theme video/computer games.
- Children who seem preoccupied or very stressed about war, fighting, or terrorism should be evaluated by a qualified mental health professional. Other signs that a child may need professional help include: ongoing trouble sleeping, persistent upsetting thoughts, fearful images, intense fears about death, and trouble leaving their parents or going to school. The child’s physician can assist with appropriate referrals.
- Help children communicate with others and express themselves at home. Some children may want to write letters to the President, Governor, local newspaper, or to grieving families.
- Let children be children. They may not want to think or talk a lot about these events. It is OK if they’d rather play ball, climb trees, or ride their bike, etc.
War and terrorism are not easy for anyone to comprehend or accept. Understandably, many young children feel confused, upset, and anxious. Parents, teachers, and caring adults can help by listening and responding in an honest, consistent, and supportive manner. Most children, even those exposed to trauma, are quite resilient. Like most adults, they can and do get through difficult times and go on with their lives. By creating an open environment where they feel free to ask questions, parents can help them cope and reduce the possibility of emotional difficulties.
View this powerful and impactful World Trade Center Health Program PSA on Youtube featuring John Feal and John Stewart. [az_video_embed class=”” link=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9tgxDbzSacg&feature=youtu.be&ab_channel=Tuesday%27sChildren”]
When tragedy strikes, as parents you find yourself doubly challenged: to process your own feelings of grief and distress, and to help your children do the same.
I wish I could tell you how to spare your children pain, when they’ve lost friends or family members, and fear, when disturbing events occur, especially when they’re close to home. I can’t do that, but what I can do is share what I’ve learned about how to help children process disturbing events in the healthiest way.
As a parent, you can’t protect you children from grief, but you can help them express their feelings, comfort them, and help them feel safer. By allowing and encouraging them to express their feelings, you can help them build healthy coping skills that will serve them well in the future, and confidence that they can overcome adversity.
- Break the news. When something happens that will get wide coverage, my first and most important suggestion is that you don’t delay telling your children about what’s happened: It’s much better for the child if you’re the one who tells her. You don’t want her to hear from some other child, a television news report, or the headlines on the front page of the New York Post. You want to be able to convey the facts, however painful, and set the emotional tone.
- Take your cues from your child. Invite her to tell you anything she may have heard about the tragedy, and how she feels. Give her ample opportunity to ask questions. You want to be prepared to answer (but not prompt) questions about upsetting details. Your goal is to avoid encouraging frightening fantasies.
- Model calm. It’s okay to let your child know if you’re sad, but if you talk to your child about a traumatic experience in a highly emotional way, then he will likely absorb your emotion and very little else. If, on the other hand, you remain calm, he is likely to grasp what’s important: that tragic events can upset our lives, even deeply, but we can learn from bad experiences and work together to grow stronger.
- Be reassuring. Talking about death is always difficult, but a tragic accident or act of violence is especially tough because of how egocentric children are: they’re likely to focus on whether something like this could happen to them. So it’s important to reassure your child about how unusual this kind of event is, and the safety measures that have been taken to prevent this kind of thing from happening to them. You can also assure him that this kind of tragedy is investigated carefully, to identify causes and help prevent it from happening again. It’s confidence-building for kids to know that we learn from negative experiences.
- Help children express their feelings. In your conversation (and subsequent ones) you can suggest ways your child might remember those she’s lost: draw pictures or tell stories about things you did together. If you’re religious, going to church or synagogue could be valuable.
- Be developmentally appropriate. Don’t volunteer too much information, as this may be overwhelming. Instead, try to answer your child’s questions. Do your best to answer honestly and clearly. It’s okay if you can’t answer everything; being available to your child is what matters. Difficult conversations like this aren’t over in one session; expect to return to the topic as many times as your child needs to come to terms with this experience.
- Be available. If your child is upset, just spending time with him may make him feel safer. Children find great comfort in routines, and doing ordinary things together as a family may be the most effective form of healing.
- Memorialize those who have been lost. Drawing pictures, planting a tree, sharing stories, or releasing balloons can all be good, positive ways to help provide closure to a child. It’s important to assure your child that a person continues to live on in the hearts and minds of others. Doing something to help others in need can be very therapeutic: it can help children not only feel good about themselves but learn a very healthy way to respond to grief.
Flow is the mental state in which you are fully immersed in an activity. Your focus is laser-like. You feel lost in the activity — fully absorbed in what you are doing. Time stands still. You are “in the zone.” When in flow, people describe deep concentration, a sense of being in control, and that the activity itself is intrinsically rewarding. Flow is deeply satisfying and brings a feeling of joy. Michelangelo likely felt flow when painting the Sistine Chapel. A quarterback probably feels flow when he is evading a sack or throwing a perfect spiral. I feel flow when I am teaching and writing. My son, Jacob (13), is in flow when he is doing drum performances. My daughter, Shayna (6), describes being in flow when we took a long bike ride through the mountains.
The tricky thing about flow is that you can’t force it. It seems to just happen. There are, however, certain conditions that researchers point to that are critical for flow. To learn more, open our PDF.
This information was developed by the NYU Child Study Center for parents of all children, regardless of the impact of 9/11 on their lives. It provides guidelines to parents and family members on how to talk to children and adolescents about the events of 9/11. It also provides tips on how to support children and help them cope with their feelings and thoughts related to the anniversary.
Parenting Tips for Anxious Kids Expectations of your child It’s important that you have the same expectations of your anxious child that you would of another child (to go to birthday parties, make decisions, talk to adults). However, understand that the pace will need to be slower and there is a process involved in meeting this end goal. You can help your child break down big tasks into smaller steps that your child can accomplish (first go to the party with your child and agree to stay as long as your child is interacting with others, next time stay for the first half hour). You can help role-play or act out possible ways your child could handle a difficult situation. Saying it out loud makes kids more confident and more likely to try the strategy when your child is alone. Build your child’s personal strength It’s important to praise your child for facing challenges, trying something new or brave behavior. Some children like big loud exuberant praises, others like a quiet pat on the back. There is a lot you can do to help build your child’s competence. Search to find avenues where your child can show he is good at something (music, art, sports). Also be sure your child has jobs around the house that show your child is contributing to the family. Letting your child learn to do things on his/her own While tempting, it is best not to take over or do it for your child. While this might help your child feel better right now, the message your child is getting is that you don’t believe your child can do it. Then your child will start to think the same way about him or herself. Try not to get caught continually reassuring your child that everything will be okay. Teach your child to answer his/her own questions and provide the reassurance him/herself. You can model how you think through and respond to your child’s questions. Helping your child handle his own feelings It is okay to let your child experience some anxiety. Your child needs to know that anxiety is not dangerous but something your child can cope with. You can let your child know all feelings are okay and it is all right to say what you feel. Anxious children sometimes have a hard time expressing strong emotions like anger or sadness because they are afraid people will be angry with them. It’s okay to take time for yourself even if your child wants to be with you at all times. You are modeling for your child that everyone needs some time to themselves. Passing on your fears Try to keep your fears to yourself and as best you can present a positive or at least neutral description of a situation. Let them know that it is safe to explore. It is not helpful to laugh or 1 / 2 Parenting Tips for Anxious Kids minimize your child’s fear. But humor does help one deal with the world, so show your child how to laugh at life’s absurdities and mistakes. Consequences Don’t confuse anxiety with other types of inappropriate behavior. It is very important to set both expectations and have limits and consequences for inappropriate behavior. Parents who have reasonable expectations of their children and clear and consistent limits and consequences for behavior along with love and acceptance have the most competent, self confident and happy children. Courtesy of WorryWiseKids.org
Resilience: The Quality of Survival
American Psychological Association Help Center