With news of the tragic school shooting in Connecticut sending shockwaves across the country, it’s inevitable many kids will hear about it and worry if the same thing could happen to them. But experts say there are steps you can take to help them deal with the tragedy.
The first thing you can do is turn off the wall to wall coverage, says Dr. Bob Hilt, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
Hilt says a number of studies have shown children can suffer long-term emotional damage from exposure to traumatic news events, even from a TV or radio that just happens to be on in the background.
“Children tend to be aware of everything that’s going on around them,” Hilt says.
The impact can differ greatly depending on their age. While a 17-year-old might be able to handle much of the news, it’s a lot different for a younger child.
“Young children tend to personalize everything and worry it could happen to them,” Hilt says.
Hilt says it’s imperative parents talk about the tragedy with their children if they know about it and assure them even though bad things happen, they are safe and you are not worried about anything happening to them.
Those assurances may not be enough. And it could be weeks before kids show any signs they’re having a tough time dealing with the emotions.
Hilt says some of the signs include a child becoming more withdrawn, anxious, shy, irritable or throwing tantrums. They might also have difficulty sleeping and nightmares.
“It may be they pop up with questions days, weeks later that show that they’re really struggling with things,” he says.
Hilt recommends keeping regular schedules and routines so kids feel a sense of normalcy. He also advises doing something positive like volunteering or sending a care package to the families of the victims letting them know you care.
And check yourself. Kids pick up on their parents fears and anxieties. If you’re worried, they’ll sense it. If you or one of your children seem like you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to seek professional help.