WASHINGTON, June 14, 2016 — When a terrorist attack happens it is perfectly natural for children to ask questions and express anxiety. These attacks can have harmful repercussions on every member of your family. You can help ease your child’s anxiety with a few well-considered steps.
Take caution when managing the fallout from a traumatic event. Patience and consistency are your primary tools to ease your children into a pattern of family normalcy.
According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, parents are also affected by terrorism and mass shootings. As advised in explanations of what to do in airplane emergencies, take care of yourself then your child.
Some of the effective steps the National Child Traumatic Stress Network recommends for parents’ recovery include:
- Take time to speak with other adult friends, relatives, church members or neighbors about how you and they are coping.
- Get plenty of rest, take a break and focus on “me” time by exercising or treat yourself to something that you like to do.
- Avoid making hasty emotional life-altering decisions for a while.
- Make certain that you eat regularly and remain hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
- Avoid alcohol, drugs, or negative behaviors in yourself. Set an example.
The impact of terrorism can be seen in children in subtle ways. Parents need to identify changes in both behavior and attitude. In order to address negative feelings repeatedly, assure them that you will keep them safe, and that law enforcement is doing everything possible to do exactly the same.
After an event like Orlando, tragic images and sounds flashing across the television, computer and smartphone screen, may increase your child’s emotions. One of the first things you can do is take them outside to play, go about your daily lives without being glued to the technicolor horror.
But do these things with openness, even if it is uncomfortable for you, the adult. Let your children feel their emotions and advise them to not keep them bottled up. Encourage them to talk and to share concerns and feelings. If it happens in the grocery store, stop what you are doing, leave your cart and find a place to talk.
Children will let you know when they are ready to talk. Emphasize that no comment or observation that they make is too small or foolish. Listen; do not interrupt.
Do not marginalize or minimize what they say to you.
Any and all feelings, from grief to fear to apathy, are all valid because it is what they are feeling. Voice this to them.
Consider writing down brief notes as they speak. This will assure them that you are serious about their concerns and want to accurately capture each one.
Take care of your needs as well; you can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself. Be sure you have confronted how you feel, but be ready to adjust and temper your feelings as you talk with your child.
In addition, part of restoring family normalcy is to reinforce family rules. This is necessary because children may feel the need to act out or, for older children, abandon curfews, chores or other family rules. Calmly and firmly, insist that you need to enforce family rules in order to help stabilize the family for everyone’s benefit.
But do so without yelling or violence.
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network suggests that these negative behavior patterns are exhibited as ways for children and even teems to express their strong feelings or resentment to what has happened. Let your children know that the extra attention to their out of character behavior, while understandable, is not permitted.
Other ways to help your child:
- Protect your child from continued media coverage about the terrorist attack by limiting television, Facebook, Twitter or other social media and technological exposure. This is essential, especially for younger children, because continued media coverage will possibly trigger unnecessary fears about a terrorist attack happening again, quite possibly to their family or people that they care about.
- Help control events, actions or sensory sensations that remind them of terrorism. For instance, a song playing may bring back a sad memory of a loss and the child will want to attach it to the feeling of family members who lost someone in the Orlando attack. A car backfiring or a simple potato chip bag popping may set off a fearful reaction. Keep comforting your child and remind them that they are safe.
- Help your children to restful sleep by reassuring them before bedtime of some positive event or activity that the family shared in that day. Read a favorite book that provides a positive, or even just fun, message. Also, mention upcoming activities that will help lessen their stress.
- Family prayer or a moment of meditation at bedtime and at mealtime will be beneficial and reinforce comfort.
- Be vigilant toward, and be ready to address, your older child’s or teen’s reaction to the terror. Be aware if they begin to engage in reckless behavior like cutting themselves or abusing alcohol or drugs. Suggest to your teens, particularly those that my identify as gay, that they do something positive – help raise money for victims, donate blood (if old enough) at their local red cross, or engage in charitable activities in their community. Encourage them to journal their feelings or spend time engaging in games or activities with family or friends.
- Last and most important, create a family emergency response plan to in the event of any emergency – from a weather event to terrorism. Discuss what the child will do if the parent is not home, or if the child is at school, store, park or event. Have all emergency numbers available on the refrigerator, in each cellphone of the family. The numbers should be on speed dial and should include the parent, police, a neighbor and a family member outside of the home and area hospital. Discuss and practice if an emergency happens and rehearse the plan by role-playing. The most effective way to eliminate a child’s fear is to lessen anxiety and build confidence in their own and their family’s safety.
The horrendous act of terrorism in Orlando, as tragic as it was, will most certainly not be the last one to occur on America’s soil. By following these steps you and your children can learn how to respond, protect yourselves physically and emotionally, and eventually recover from the fear and traumatic feelings that mass tragedies create.