Ask Amy: How Do I Help My Child Feel Safe Despite the Recent Paris Attacks?

My child is asking lots of questions about the recent attacks in Paris. I’m not sure how to address it with her. Any suggestions?

Such events can leave all of us feeling sad, mad and scared and children may be particularly reactive, which makes them feel unsafe. When children are directly exposed to such events, they can become traumatized, and the emotional impact of trauma can last a very long time if it goes unnoticed. Some children who may not experience the trauma directly may be exposed to it nevertheless through sensationalized newscasts, and there is evidence to suggest that children can be just as traumatized by this kind of indirect contact as well. It is important that parents have information about the impact trauma has on children and how to help them understand and cope with these events.

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First, when something traumatic occurs, it is important to give children an honest, yet age appropriate explanation of what happened. They will almost certainly hear about it through television, schoolmates, etc., so it is best that children receive information from their parents. Second, it is imperative to reassure children, that you will do everything you can to keep them safe. It is wise to limit children’s exposure to newscasts. I don’t mean shield them from it entirely, just limit. Children do not have the reasoning abilities or coping mechanisms to deal with what they might see or hear. It is important to permit children to talk about their feelings and reactions. Although such conversations can be painful, especially if we’re experiencing our own reactions to the trauma, they do help all of us in the long run. One of the worst things we can say to our children is “get over it,” or “you can’t talk about it.” Denial of the child’s reactions can lead to larger problems later. Give them the facts such as, “the bad guys are in jail.”

Sometimes traumatized children look quite “normal” on the surface after the event, and then experience post-traumatic symptoms, weeks, months, or even years later. Many children are quite resilient when dealing with traumatic events, but it is good for parents to know what to look for when their child might be struggling. Here are some signs that might indicate problems for your child: nervousness, agitation, difficulty concentrating, refusing to go to school, angers quickly, aggression, nightmares, won’t sleep alone, startles easily, reverts to younger-age behaviors, fears separation, personality changes. Although these signs could be related to other things, they might indicate your child has been traumatized. The sooner it is treated, the better the outcome is likely to be for the child.

 
There’s Always Hope,

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