NDSU Extension - Mercer County


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Adults Can Support Children Dealing with Stress Related to Violence

children and stress, Las Vegas violence

Submitted by Dena Kemmet, Extension Agent/Family and Consumer Sciences

Children in Mercer County may be over a thousand miles from Las Vegas, but the media coverage is intense. Images of police, victims of violence, and related difficulties flood social media and television screens. These and other realities related to recent events associated with such a mass shooting are unsettling, especially for children.

Children ask questions and respond emotionally to the reactions of adults to these events.  They see adults absorbed in the news coverage. They listen to parents or teachers discussing persons they know who reside or are visiting the area. They see images on television or in the newspaper headlines. Children want to know what is happening, express concern and anxiety, and wonder why it is happening at all.

Parents and other adults are critical in helping children to deal with the stress of such events in at least four ways. They provide an example for children, create a positive environment, act as a resource in helping children to cope, and give guidance and support in managing emotions.

First, your example for children is important to understanding how to handle concern about this event or any other challenge. Children look to parents or other adults for insight into how to respond to difficult circumstances. Set a positive example for the children in your life. Avoid responding to current news updates in ways that are highly emotional or overly dramatic. Such reactions may upset children. Be informed but don’t dwell at length on the latest events.  Children will be more comfortable with their concerns if they see responses that are emotionally balanced.   

Second, creating a positive environment for children during highly stressful events is important. As you maintain a sense of security in your own home and environment, this reassures children that they can continue to feel secure. Continue a healthy routine at home. Avoid letting the constant news coverage of current events be on television or radio constantly in the background. This creates tension and may overwhelm a child’s sense of security. Let children know that despite such events, the patterns of your life will continue in ways that they are familiar with and can depend on.

Third, be a resource for helping your children to cope as needed. Express your concern for people living in the region, but reassure children that they themselves are protected and safe. Answer your children’s questions directly but give them information that is appropriate to their age and maturity level. Listen to them if they want to express concerns.  

Finally, help your children to manage the emotions of fear or uncertainty that they might feel or express. Parents and other adults need to be attentive to children’s needs in helping them to overcome fears or maintain a sense of trust and security. The best protection for a child in times of emotional chaos is the loving arms of a mother, father, or loving adult they trust.

Source: Sean Brotherson, PhD, Extension Family Science Specialist

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