Sooth­ing chil­dren in a scary world

North Penn Life - - OPINION -

These are fright­en­ing times for adults, and un­doubt­edly even more un­set­tling for our chil­dren. Our na­tional and lo­cal news was filled with de­tails of the re­cent shoot­ing in Aurora, Colo., and the child sex­ual abuse at Penn State, in ad­di­tion to many other dis­turb­ing sto­ries.

Even if we keep our kids away from the Ts news, their daily In­ter­net use will ex­pose them to graphic visual im­ages and hor­rific sto­ries that will leave an in­deli­ble im­print upon young minds.

For those chil­dren with anx­ious ten­den­cies, learn­ing about these events can lead to the de­vel­op­ment or in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion of symp­toms that can be dis­rup­tive to their daily life.

There are spe­cific guide­lines that will help par­ents deal with their chil­dren ef­fec­tively in the face of trau­matic events.

Chil­dren will look to their par­ents for cues on how they should be re­spond­ing to a cri­sis in the world around them.

If a par­ent seems anx­ious, par­tic­u­larly about ap­pear­ing in a pub­lic place, chil­dren are much more likely to be fright­ened about this as well.

It is crit­i­cal for par­ents to con­vey sta­bil­ity and calm­ness in re­la­tion to the event that has oc­curred. Keep­ing a child’s rou­tine as nor­mal as pos­si­ble pro­vides a sense of pre­dictabil­ity and con­sis­tency, which will help to de­crease their anx­i­ety.

Pa ren ts should also be more avail­able to their chil­dren both phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally in the af­ter­math of a widely pub­li­cized trau­matic event.

Ex­po­sure to the me­dia should be lim­ited, be­cause when chil­dren continue to see cov­er­age of a cri­sis, they can per­ceive it as hap­pen­ing again and may be­gin to iden­tify with the vic­tims.

Too much news cov­er­age can also be anx­i­ety- pro­vok­ing and trau- ma­tiz­ing for adults too, so par­ents should limit their own ex­po­sure as well to stay calmer for their chil­dren.

Par­ents also need to be pre­pared for the many ques­tions that their chil­dren may ask in the face of a cri­sis.

It is im­por­tant that par­ents al­low their child to lead the way, as spe­cific con­cerns may vary ac­cord­ing to a child’s de­vel­op­men­tal stage.

Younger chil­dren may not be able to ex­press their wor­ries in words, but may in­cor­po­rate the “Bat­man movie” in­ci­dent, for ex­am­ple, into their free play or draw­ings. This al­lows a par­ent to ask ques­tions and make com­ments about the char­ac­ters in a child’s play, which can be a less threat­en­ing way of un­der­stand­ing and re­as­sur­ing a child’s con­cerns.

For older chil­dren with more cog­ni­tive ma­tu­rity, a par­ent can dis­cuss the slim prob­a­bil­ity of such events, and help the child mo­bi­lize other de­fense mech­a­nisms, such as dis­trac­tion and ra­tio­nal self- talk, to pre­vent wor­ries from in­fil­trat­ing the child’s daily func­tion­ing.

Par­ents should con­sider seek­ing pro­fes­sional help if their child’s base­line level of func­tion­ing changes sig­nif­i­cantly over a long pe­riod of time. School re­fusal, clingi­ness, loss of con­cen­tra­tion, phys­i­cal com­plaints and be­hav­ior prob­lems that are not typ­i­cal for a child may be red flags that pro­fes­sional con­sul­ta­tion may be war­ranted.

For ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion on help­ing chil­dren deal with trau­matic events, there are ex­cel­lent fact sheets avail­able in the “Facts for Fam­i­lies” sec­tion of the Amer­i­can Academy of Child and Ado­les­cent Psy­chi­a­try web­site.

Dr. Caryn Rich­field is a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist prac­tic­ing in Ply­mouth Meet­ing. She can be reached at 610- 2384450 or at dr­crich­field@ aol. com.

Cop­ing Dr. Caryn Rich­field

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