We usually think of childhood and adolescence as a carefree, happy time. But young people can have very real fears and concerns. They hear news of terrorism, crime, wars, natural disasters, unemployment and homelessness. They can experience the unpleasant realities of life—divorce or the loss of a family member or friend (even a pet)—along with school and social pressures and possible bullying.
When children go through a sad or traumatic event, they need reassurance. They need to know that they are safe and that someone will take care of them. Here are some steps you can take to help your child deal with difficult times.
Take stock of your own emotions.
You may have concerns, too, but you want to be calm and reassuring when you talk to your child. Traumatic events are hard for everyone to process, but if your child sees you dealing and coping positively, it will give them a sense that they will be all right.
Listen to your child.
Older children may start a conversation or ask you questions, while younger children may simply express concerns through their play or drawing. Without pushing, encourage them to talk by asking what they think about the situation that’s upsetting them. By helping them verbalize their questions and fears, you let them know you intend to go through this with them.
Don’t be afraid to share your own feelings.
You don’t need to say too much. Keep it simple, express your thoughts in a way the child can understand, and continue to be reassuring.
Turn off your TV.
When tragedies occur, newscasts tend to show the events over and over, interspersed with the most dramatic reactions. Teens can process and discuss news, while younger children often perceive replays as more catastrophe. You want to stay informed, but you don’t want to continue to raise your child’s level of fear and anxiety.
Books and stories are a great way for your child to separate from current events and find comfort in a familiar activity.
Maintain your normal routine.
The predictability of a child’s normal schedule helps create security. A child will feel control over day-to-day events like getting ready for school, mealtimes and bedtime activities.
Spend extra time together.
Just being there can be the most important thing you do. Whether your child is dealing with a loss, or with a sad event that no one can fully explain, your presence sends a message that you will keep them safe. And right now, that’s the thing they most need to know.
Talk about bullying.
Educate kids on what is and what is not bullying behavior. Help kids understand bullying and encourage conversations regarding bullying. If you discover that your child is being bullied, respond quickly. When parents respond quickly and consistently to bullying behavior, they send the message that it is not acceptable. There are simple steps adults can take to stop bullying on the spot and keep kids safe.
For more information, please visit StopBullying.gov.
KnowBullying is a free app that provides tools and resources, including conversation starters for parents, to prevent bullying and help children build resilience. The app is available for iOS and Android devices here.
In the event your child experiences prolonged periods of sadness, depression or anxiety, please seek professional care with a behavioral health or primary care outpatient provider, emergency department or crisis service provider.