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How can you help your children cope with traumatic news?

 | 15 May 2018

Traumatic events like an accident in your local area, or a tragedy that took place somewhere familiar such as a holiday destination can have an impact on children. Even a disaster that happened far away but made the news can influence their emotions.

While they may not have experienced the tragedy firsthand, children can have physical and emotional reactions when they hear about shocking

Chris Gostelow, manager of the school psychology service, provides his top five tips for helping your children cope with traumatic news. 

events. Following such events from a distance in the media can be distressing.

In light of the recent tragedy in our southwest, we have put together five tips to help you support your children as they attempt to make sense of events.

Chris Gostelow, the Department’s manager of the school psychology service, guides us through his advice.

1. Try to limit what your children see and hear

“Children may feel sad for the people who lost their lives or the people who lost loved ones. They may also feel uncertain of their own safety,” Mr Gostelow said.

“Some vision and language may be alarming or too graphic for children.

“For young children, limit the type and amount of news they see on TV or hear on the radio.

“Control what they are looking at online. If possible, be with them when they see or hear sad or scary news – talking about what has happened with a reassuring adult can make a huge difference to their reactions.

“If you have children with special needs, be aware that their understanding of the situation may be different and you might need to explain things in a different way.”

2. Be careful of your own reactions in front of your children

“Children may respond to the reactions of the people around them,” Mr Gostelow said.

“It’s okay to show your emotions, but it is important that you are calm and reassuring in front of your children.

“While you may be feeling a whole range of emotions – as we all are in these situations – your reaction will model how your children may respond.”

3. Answer their questions

“It’s their nature, children are curious, so respond to their questions and clarify any of their concerns. Even if you don’t have all the answers, you can reassure them that their world is mostly a safe place.

“Children may want to ask questions both at the time and intermittently afterwards.”

4. Spend time together

“Make sure that you keep to your usual routines but also take some time to do something fun. Go for a walk or read a book together,” he said.

“Sometimes children can express their thoughts and feelings better through play, so playing with them and spending time with them may give them the opportunity they need to talk about how they are feeling.”

5. Watch for signs of distress

“Everyone reacts differently, and your children may show some signs that they have been affected by seeing or hearing about a traumatic event,” he said.

“Things to watch for include major changes to:

  • sleeping
  • eating
  • independence (clinginess)
  • anger
  • unrealistic fear and anxiety.

“For some children, watching and listening to graphic news may raise previous traumatic situations they have experienced themselves or seen online or on television.

“If you are concerned about your children showing some of these signs, seek professional support from you school staff and the school psychologist.”

The Australian Psychological Society website has an information sheet called “Tips for talking with and helping children and young people after tragic events” to help parents/caregivers and school staff talk with children about a tragic event.

If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline 13 11 14; Mensline 1300 789 978; Kids Helpline 1800 551 800 or beyondblue 1300 224 636.