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Talking to Your Child About Traumatic Events

December 18, 2012
Children watching a screen.

When children experience a traumatic event, see or hear news coverage of it or overhear people talking about it, they can feel anxious, worried, or confused. Some children react right away, while others may show signs later.

Here are some tips and resources to help you learn more about common reactions, helpful responses, and when to ask for support.

  • This tip sheet addresses different ways to help various age groups of children. For every age group, it's recommended that you support returning to regular, day-to-day activities while providing extra attention, comfort and support. Encourage your children to express their feelings in age-appropriate ways, and address safety plans for future incidents.
  • Often, news reports may focus on the most upsetting aspects of a disaster or tragedy, and these events don't have to be close to home to evoke reactions of fear and worry. The University of Oklahoma Terror and Disaster Center specifically addresses the impact of media coverage, emphasizing strategies of restriction and active mediation, which includes monitoring and explaining media coverage to your child. It's also important to model and encourage good coping skills.

But remember, you don't have to "fix" how your child feels. These tips will help you support your children as they take time to understand, cope, and heal. Some children may even need professional help. If signs of stress or other negative reactions don't go away after a few weeks, or if they get worse, consider consulting a mental health professional trained in working with children. Your child will return to health in time and with help.

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