Increasingly we are faced with news stories about tragedies happening in Australia and overseas. Our children are not immune from such news so it's important for us to be aware of monitoring what they hear and helping them to make some kind of sense of it all.
1. Look out for stress reactions. These can be physical as well as psychological and can present as sleeping or eating changes, headaches or stomach aches. Children may also be more worried about leaving you. If you notice these, ask the child how they are feeling and if there's anything they would like to talk about or ask questions about. Given children time and space if they are not ready to talk straight away.
2. Promote an open and safe environment where all questions and comments are ok. This might include 1:1 time with a child as well as discussions at meal times or in the car. Encourage children to ask if they are unsure and always be supportive of their efforts to find out answers.
3. Use age appropriate words and concepts. Sometimes children hear people talking or news reports and can misunderstand or feel uncertain because they don't understand what is happening. Think about how the child might be understanding the situation and help them to make sense of it in ways that suit their age, language abilities and current understanding of the world around them.
4. If necessary repeat information as many times as required. Young children often ask the same question over and over. This suggests they haven't received the information they need or that they require reassurance. Be careful to encourage questions while also promoting a sense of calm.
5. Acknowledge the child's feelings and thoughts by listening actively. Let children know that all feelings are ok and it's normal to have lots of different feelings and reactions to situations.
6. Recognise that children may take the information from the news and put it into the context of their own family life. They may worry about their own or their family or friends' safety for example. While it's important to be reassuring to children, also make sure not to make unrealistic promises or promises you might not be able to keep.
7. Help children to express feelings and thoughts in ways that suit them and their age. Some children might like to draw or play with toys to make sense of the information they are hearing.
8. Encourage help seeking so that children know that there are always people who can help them if they are worried or need help. This is important in building resilience.
9. Model a calm, problem solving approach to life events.Children learn from the adults around them so be mindful of how you are presenting to children. While not dismissing the tragedy, also focus on being hopeful.
10. Place boundaries and restrictions on television watching when frightening images are being shown. This can be helpful for adults as well as children. IT can help the whole family when routines and fun activities continue.
If you've tried the above and symptoms remain present, the child is preoccupied with the tragedy, and fears and thoughts are impacting on the child's life, it can be useful to seek professional help. A good starting point can be the child's early childhood centre or school or the family's general practitioner.