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Addressing children’s anxiety from tragic news


Recently the news has been full of tragic events, such as school shootings, police shootings, bombings, and natural disasters. With TV, radio and social media, tuning out the news is next to impossible. Children can easily be exposed to these scary events, leaving them full of worry. Here is a common question:

Dear Ask a Therapist;

With all the scary news lately, especially around the recent school shootings, how do I help my children deal with what they hear and help them with their fears?

Dear reader;

Watching the news can impact our thoughts and feelings. When a child hears disturbing stories on the news, it can be overwhelming - especially for younger children. While worry is a normal reaction to a stressful situation, it can become excessive and cause children to dread and even avoid everyday situations.

When this occurs, your child may be experiencing anxiety. Some signs that may indicate your child may not be coping effectively could include sleep problems (trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, nightmares or difficulty waking), physical complaints (headaches, stomachaches, inability to relax) and changes in behavior, which could include becoming impatient, more demanding or clinging to parents.

Here are some helpful tips to talk to children about news events to lessen anxiety:

Ask children what they have already heard and if they have questions. Encourage them to discuss anything they find disturbing. Keep answers straightforward and leave out graphic details.

Children look to their parents to determine how to react to situations. If you are anxious, your child may pick up on that. When talking to your children take a few deep breaths, slow down your speech and ensure your facial expression shows you are calm.

Reassure them that they are safe. Spend extra time with them as your presence will help them feel safe and secure.

Validate your child’s feelings and encourage them to express their worries. Say something like, “Yes, you are scared. Tell me what you are worried about.”

Practice calming strategies with your child (i.e. take slow deep breaths or think of a relaxing image and imagine the sounds, smells and sensations associated with the image)

If your child is experiencing excessive worry and dreads or avoids everyday situations, seek counseling or professional help.

Lisa Von Colln, MA, LPC, RPT, is an early childhood play therapist and mental health consultant at the Community Reach Center located in Thornton.

This column is for educational purposes only, and opinions are not those of Colorado Community Media. Answers are not specific to any individual and are not a substitute for regular or urgent medical consultation and treatment.


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