Helping Children Cope with Tragedy

It’s hard for grownups to make sense of a tragedy, so consider how difficult it must be for children.

Depending on their age and media exposure, children may know more than grownups think. And even if unaware, children still might sense tension and anxiety from adults around them.

Mental Health America has offered these ways that parents can help their children cope with tragedy-related anxiety:Dad comforting child

Quick tips for parents

  • Children need comforting and frequent reassurance of their safety.
  • Be honest and open about the tragedy or disaster.
  • Encourage children to express their feelings through talking, drawing or playing.
  • Try to maintain your daily routines as much as possible.

Preschool-aged children

  • Reassure young children that they’re safe. Provide extra comfort and contact by discussing the child’s fears at night, telephoning during the day, and providing extra physical comfort.
  • Get a better understanding of a child’s feelings about the tragedy. Discuss the events with them and find out their fears and concerns. Answer all questions they may ask and provide them loving comfort and care.
  • Structure children’s play so that it remains constructive, serving as an outlet for them to express fear or anger.

Grade school-aged children

  • Answer questions in clear and simple language.
  • False reassurance does not help this age group. Don’t say that tragedies will never happen again; children know this isn’t true. Instead, remind children that tragedies are rare, and say “You’re safe now, and I’ll always try to protect you,” or “Adults are working very hard to make things safe.”
  • Children’s fears often worsen around bedtime, so stay until the child falls asleep so he or she feels protected.
  • Monitor children’s media viewing. Images of the tragedy are extremely frightening to children, so consider limiting the amount of media coverage they see.
  • Allow children to express themselves through play or drawing, and then talk to them about it. This gives you the chance to “retell” the ending of the game or the story they have expressed in pictures with an emphasis on personal safety.
  • Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know.” Part of keeping discussion of the tragedy open and honest is not being afraid to say you don’t know how to answer a child’s question. When such an occasion arises, explain to your child that tragedies cause feelings that even adults have trouble dealing with. Temper this by explaining that adults will still always work hard to keep children safe and secure.

MomComfortGirl  Adolescents

  •  Adolescents may try to downplay their worries, so encourage them to work out their concerns about the tragedy.
  • Children with existing emotional problems such as depression may require careful supervision and additional support.
  • Monitor their media exposure to the event and information they receive on the Internet.
  • Adolescents may turn to their friends for support. Encourage friends and families to get together and discuss the event to allay fears.

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Is Your Child Too Busy?

These days it seems families are busier than ever. Many kids have too much to do and not enough time to do it. For some families, kids may be driving the schedule because they don’t want to feel left out. Teens may feel pressure to boost their roster of activities to get into the college of their choice.

Some parents feel it’s more productive to keep their kids constantly occupied. They might also feel that their kids will miss out on key experiences if they aren’t doing what other kids are. But most parents usually just want what seems best for their kids. Even when intentions are good, though, kids can easily become overscheduled.

And, even those parents who try to help their kids cut back on some activities can run up against coaches who won’t tolerate absences and kids who want to keep up with their friends. However, it’s important for parents to step back and make sure that their kids aren’t burning out.

Some signs that your kids may be too busy, include: feeling tired, anxious, depressed; complaining of headaches and stomachaches, which may be due to stress; missed meals, or lack of sleep; falling behind on their schoolwork.

The key is to schedule things in moderation and choose activities with a child’s age, temperament, interests, and abilities in mind.  Check out these easy tips to help manage extracurricular activities and make them more enjoyable for all:

  • Agree on ground rules ahead of time: For instance, plan on kids playing one sport per season or limit activities to two afternoons or evenings during the school week.
  • Know how much time is required: For example, will there be time to practice between lessons? Does your child realize that soccer practice is twice a week, right after school until dinnertime? Then there’s the weekly game, too. Will homework suffer?
  • Keep a calendar to stay organized: Display it on the refrigerator or other prominent spot so that everybody can stay up-to-date.
  • Even if kids sign up for the season, let them miss one or two sessions: Sometimes taking the opportunity to hang out on a beautiful day is more important than going to one more activity, even if you’ve already paid for it.
  • Try to carpool with other parents to make life easier.
  • Try to balance activities for all of your kids — and yourself: It hardly seems fair to expend time and energy carting one kid to activities, leaving little time for another. And take time for yourself, to do the things you enjoy, and to spend time together as a family. 
  • Create family time: If you’re eating pizza on the run every night, plan a few dinners when everyone can be home at the same time — even if it means eating a little later. Schedule family fun time, too, whether it’s playing a board game or going on bike ride.
  • Set priorities: School should come first. If kids have a hard time keeping up academically, they may need to drop an activity.
  • Know when to say no: If your child is already doing a lot but really wants to take on another activity, discuss what other activity or activities need to be dropped to make room for the new one.
  • Remember the importance of downtime: Everyone needs a chance to relax, reflect on the day, or just do nothing. It’s also important for kids to simply get together to play or hang out. Kids need time to just be kids.

For more on this topic, please visit CHOC’s Kids Health education resource.

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Dealing with Bullies

Hopefully your child’s back-to-school routine doesn’t include a bully! Occasionally, friends and classmates may tease each other in a fun, friendly and mutual manner.  But when teasing becomes hurtful, unkind and constant, it crosses the line into bullying. And that needs to stop.

If you suspect your child is being bullied, or she approaches you about the subject, here’s some simple advice you can offer her for improving the situation:

• Tell an adult.  Teachers, school staff, parents, and volunteers at school can all help stop bullying.

• Use the buddy system and avoid the bully.  Stick to your friends to ensure you’re never alone with the bully.

• Hold the anger.  It’s natural to get upset, but getting a reaction out of you will only encourage the bully to continue the behavior.  Practice “cool down” strategies, such as counting to 10, taking deep breaths or walking away.

• Act brave, walk away and ignore the bully.  Firmly and clearly tell the bully to stop, and then walk away.  Ignore hurtful remarks.  By ignoring the bully, you’re showing you don’t care, and hopefully the bully will get bored with bothering you.

Make sure your child continues to talk to you about the situation.  Help her understand that she is not to blame.  The bully is the one behaving badly, not her. Try to lessen the impact of bullying at home, by encouraging her to get together with friends, join clubs, or participate in sports.  Find activities that can help your child feel confident and strong.

And, lastly, let her know that together you’ll find a solution.

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An Open, Honest Discussion Is Best To Ease Kids’ Fears

As the community continues to try to make sense of, and mourn the lives lost in the recent Seal Beach shooting, many parents may be left with questions about how to talk to their kids about such a tragic event and help them ease their fears.

In a recent Orange County Register article, Dr. Mery Taylor, pediatric psychologist at CHOC Children’s, addressed this topic and suggests talking openly with your children about what they’ve heard and how they feel, and assuring them that their feelings are normal. She recommends limiting their exposure to media coverage and answering their questions honestly and in an age-appropriate manner.

Parents should also watch for signs that their kids are distressed, irritable or aggressive. Read the full story.

 

Cyberbullying: Tips Parents Should Know

With the nation’s recent focus on bullying, there are a lot of great tools and resources out there, such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ “Stop Bullying Now!”website, which parents can take advantage of to inform themselves and their families about this unsettling epidemic.

Cyberbullying, in particular, has been a focus with more and more kids using social networking as a way to interact and communicate. As a fierce advocate for the health and well being of children, CHOC offers some great tips on Cyberbullying for parents. Check it out here: http://www.choc.org/publications/articles.cfm?id=P00303&pub=KH&aid=397

Also, check out this article on what parents can do to protect their kids by setting rules for media moderation: http://www.choc.org/publications/articles.cfm?id=P00303&pub=KH&aid=552

Leave us a comment and let us know what your family or school is doing to tackle this important issue.