Ways to Help Kids in Times of Tragedy

Michele Borba April 20, 2007 Comments Off on Ways to Help Kids in Times of Tragedy

The events in Japan this week are horrific.  Such sorrow. It’s sometimes too much to bear as more reports come in. And then we think of the children and what they must be thinking and feeling as they try to make sense of yet another tragedy.

Our kids are growing up in such frightening times. Columbine. Santee. Virginia Tech. Tsunamis. Sars. Terrorism. 9-11.

Our children’s worlds have been defined by tragedies and those permeates the world around them.

This is the first generation who have watched broadcasts of a live war in their living rooms, terrorist attacks, school massacres, bombings. Beware: we are seeing a concerning trend in our youth. Many are developing what is called “Mean World Syndrome” – they see the world as a mean and scary place. Research on teens show that many have heightened feelings of “fatalism” – believing they won’t live to see the future.

Though we can’t change world events, we can temper our kids’ anxieties. We can show alter their views by showing them a more positive spin. And we can help them learn how to cope with trauma and uncertain times by tuning into our behavior. The model we use to cope with tragedies is very often the same model our children adopt for their own coping mechanisms.

The “Blitzkrieg Effect”

Ways to Alleviate Anxiety

Here are seven secrets that help kids (and you!) alleviate excessive anxiety and soothe their worries.

1. Comfort Kids With Family Activities

In times of stress, your child needs to feel embraced by her family. That’s why it’s a good idea to spend plenty of time doing things together—it helps her feel safe and sends a “we’re all in this together” message. Find tension-releasing activities the entire family can do together. For instance, go for walks or bike rides, pray or meditate, listen to soothing music or watch humorous videos. And engage in—or create—comforting family traditions: attend a religious service, hang the American flag, or light a nightly candle to signify your hopes for peace and safety.

2. Turn Off the TV News

Too much television is never good for kids. But with news showing such graphic images of a tragedy, it’s especially important to monitor how much your kids are watching. If your kids do watch the news, watch with them to answer their questions. And certainly limit their exposure.

The Surgeon General’s reports shows that seeing repeated violent images exacerbates existing anxiety and actually increases in some kids. But it also increases the “fear factor.”

A Time/CNN survey found tweens are especially impacted by late-breaking news. When surveyed, they admitted that those news bulletins –without an adult there to help interpret them–are very stressful. Be there for them.

3. Stick to Routines

One of the best ways to alleviate anxiety is to stick to your normal routines. It is comforting and soothing to kids to know that life is normal—even though the news is giving them quite a different message. So stick to your routines. It sends a clear message that even during a tragedy , parents keep going to work, kids continue going to school, and the world will go on.

4. Cut One Thing from Your Family’s Schedules

One of the simplest ways to reduce stress is by cutting out just one thing from your daily or weekly schedule. Why add more to your life right now? Our parenting priority must be to keep ourselves and our kids’ strong, and that means we need to reduce our harried, hurried schedules so can model calmness to our kids. So just cut out one thing–be it the book club, the violin lessons (your kid hates anyway), cooking the “gourmet dinner” every night. Spend more time with your kids.

5. Keep Yourself Strong

Don’t expect to be able to help allay your kids’ anxiety, unless you’re keeping your own in check. Are you watching what you eat (and reducing anxiety-increasers such as caffeine and sugar), exercising, getting enough rest, seeking the support of friends, or spending a quiet moment alone? You can tell your kids you’re calm and not concerned, but unless your behavior sends the same message, your words have no meaning. Your kids mirror your behavior. They will be calmer if you are calmer.

6. Listen Patiently

Please, please don’t think because your child isn’t talking about the tragedy, that he isn’t hearing about it. He needs to get the facts right – and you’re the best source. He also needs to know that it is okay to share his feelings with you and that it’s normal to be upset. So keep an ongoing dialogue with your child. You don’t need to explain more than he’s ready to hear. What’s most important is letting your child know you are available to listen. You might start the dialogue with a simple: “What have you heard?” or “What are your friends saying?”

7. Do Something Proactive As a Family

One of the best ways to reduce feelings of anxiety is to help kids find proactive ways to allay their fears. It also empowers kids to realize they can make a difference in a world that might appear scary or unsafe. For instance, help your child draw or write letters to other children who share the same fears. Or have your kids help you send “hugs” (a teddy bear, crayons, coloring book) to a child who has just lost her earthly possessions in a flood.

Please also draw your child’s attention to stories of heroism and compassion. The wonderful simple gestures of love and hope that people do for one another. Find those stories in the newspaper and share them.

Or better yet, ask your child to watch for little actions of kindness they saw others do and report them at the dinner table. Many families call those “Good News Repots.”

It’s so important to assure your children that there’s more to the world than tragedey and fear. They need to see the world as far more hopeful place.

Your actions can make a big difference in helping to send them that message.

All the best to you and your family!