NDSU Extension Service - Burleigh County

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Ideas for Helping Children Deal with Stress Related to Violence or Terrorism

The occurrence of recent shootings has adults concerned and children fearful. How can adults help children deal with stress related to such violence or terrorism?

There are a variety of strategies that parents or other adults can use in helping children to deal with such stress. 
These may include:

  • Hold the child and provide physical comfort.  Children may naturally seek the comfort and security that comes from being held.  Give children extra hugs, smiles, and hand-holding.  Set aside time just to sit next to a child, put your arm around them, or hold them on your lap and talk with them about their feelings.comfort a small girl
  • Give your child verbal reassurance.  It is important for children to hear messages of support.  Remember to tell them often that you love them, that everything will work out, and that they are taken care of.
  • Be honest with the child about your feelings.  It helps children to know that parents may share some of their feelings.  Answer your child’s questions in a simple, straightforward way.  Share your own thoughts and feelings as appropriate.
  • Ask your child to share his or her own thoughts and feelings.  Listen. Parents can help children by encouraging their expression of feelings and listening carefully to them.  Ask them to tell you if they feel scared, angry, or anxious.  Help them to realize such feelings are normal and that they can be worked out.  Reassure them that they are protected and safe with you.
  • Have children write or tell a story, or draw a picture, about their concerns.  Children often express emotion and deal with stressful situations through play or expressive behavior.  Ask children to tell you a story about their concerns, or help them to write their feelings about it.  Read it back to them and discuss it.  You may also have children draw pictures about the things they are feeling.  Ask them about the picture and what it means.
  • Establish and maintain consistent routines that provide security and familiarity to children.  Parents and other adults should create and maintain some routines that children can rely on for security.  This might include a particular routine at lunch, nap time, dinner, or bed time.  It might involve reading stories each night, rough-and-tumble play, or playing family games.  Use these times to build security and reassure children.
  • Show an example of self-control and positive response to stress.  Children learn how to respond to stress by watching adults.  Adults ought to set an example of self-control, maturity, and positive resolution in dealing with challenges.  This will comfort children and create a secure atmosphere for them.

As adults care for children and help them deal with stress and anxiety, they will find themselves more able to deal constructively with the consequences of these events also.

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