Escondido, CA

How to talk to children about violent events

Image Credit: PhotoSpin

Image Credit: PhotoSpin

Anxiety. Fear. Sadness.

Events like the Orlando shooting can generate strong emotions, espe­cially in children.

These emotions can last a few days or weeks. The County of San Di­ego’s Deputy Director for Behavioral Health Services, Dr. Piedad Garcia, offers some advice on how to talk to children–and how to cope in gener­al— with violent events like this:

Parents should be aware of their children’s responses and be ready to talk openly about them.

“Each child manifests their distress differently,” Garcia said. “It has to do with their age and their maturity, and what they see on TV also.”

It’s not essential to provide too many details. Parents should monitor how their children are doing and ac­knowledge that it’s OK to feel worried and sad.

Some children may complain of stomach aches, or not want to go to school. They may also want to talk about the incident. These are normal reactions to a stressful situation.

Limit children’s exposure to news media, Smartphones or other sources of news. Hearing updates on the event or other aspects of the case is not help­ful as it can create further apprehen­sion for children.

“Constant exposure to information about an incident can generate more anxiety.”

Piedad Garcia, deputy director for County Behavioral Health Services

The media may show distressing images, but parents should emphasize to children that the event has ended and reassure them that they are safe.

Answer children’s questions simply, without dramatizing the incident.

Provide perspective to children, ex­plaining to them that these incidents are not a common occurrence.

Provide emotional support. It may take minutes, hours or even days for the incident to affect children. When it does, provide nurturance (hugs, empa­thy, kindness, calm support) and ask about their thoughts and feelings.

Adults should be aware of their own stress levels and try to stay calm. Children look to their caretakers and parents for answers and a sense of se­curity and safety. Adults should talk to another adult about what they’re feel­ing too.

Keep doing the day-to-day family activities together. Some children’s sleep, appetite and social interest may be mildly disrupted. If these problems persist more than a few days, contact your family doctor or the County’s Access and Crisis Line at 888-724- 7240.

At the County Access and Crisis Line, trained counselors are available seven days a week, 24 hours a day, to help people with issues such as de­pression, anxiety, anger or other men­tal health challenges. The number, again, is 888-724-7240.

José A. Álvarez is a communications specialist with the County of San Di­ego Communications Office.

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