Issues and Facts
  • Following Traumatic Incident, How Children Can Cope

    Posted on   12/21/2012  3:25 PM

    The impact of the horrible shooting in Newtown, Conn. has reached living rooms across our nation.

    Many parents are dealing with grieving, upset and even traumatized children who have learned what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary.

    It’s a hard place for parents to be at this sensitive time. What should they say to their children? How do they help them cope with psychological stress?

    Our agency has been working with traumatized children for years. Many children of prisoners have seen their parents arrested, taken away by authorities and locked up in prison. They've suffered daily from not knowing what their parents are going through.

    Researchers determined long ago that children need help from their parents and other caring adults to deal with psychological stress. Levar Burton, executive producer and host of “Reading Rainbow,” reiterated that message in a recent National Public Radio interview:

    “Kids have an amazingly accurate radar for being aware of what's going on around them, even when the adults in their lives are pretending like nothing is happening. And so my experience is that you really are best served by being age-appropriately candid with children, especially when it comes to dealing with their fears.”

    Here are some specific actions parents can take to assist traumatized children, according to

    - Without forcing discussion of the traumatic event, encourage the child to express him or herself, and help younger children learn to use words that express their feelings.

    - Let children know that it is OK to be upset after something bad happens. Allow them to cry or be sad.

    - If your children are scared, reassure them that you love them and will take care of them. Stay together as a family as much as possible.

    - If your child has a hard time falling asleep, let him or her sleep with a light on or in your room for a limited time if necessary.

    - Make sure to reassure children that the traumatic event was not their fault, and there was nothing they could’ve done to prevent it from happening.

    And most importantly: just be there for your children.

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