Create a Safe Place for Children in Times of Stress

Providing a safe, secure environment for your child is always important, but particularly during times of stress. Although events like the Boston Marathon bombings or the shooting at Sandy Hook happened far away from Memphis, television news can make it feel much closer.

Seeing such violent images on TV, and noticing how those they love respond, can really create a level of anxiety for children.

Our job as a parent is to protect our children. So during times of crisis, limit your child’s exposure to television viewing, newspapers, and radio broadcasts (during carpool, for instance). As adults, we can make some sense of tragic events. But for children, it can be hard to understand that those explosions or shootings aren't happening in their town or school. Children may be concerned about their own safety or that of their family members. This may particularly true if a parent works a job that potentially puts them in harm’s way, such as first responders or those in the military.

The website Zero to Three, which focuses on the early years, suggests the following strategies for managing crises.

• Turn off TV and radio news reports; don't leave newspapers lying around.
• Ask friends and family not to discuss the scary event around your child.
• Maintain your child's regular routine.

If your child has watched much of the coverage and is upset by it, some of the behaviors that might indicate that he or she is having a difficult time coping include:

• Increased clinginess, crying and whining
• Greater fear of separation from parents
• Increase in aggressive behavior
• More withdrawn and harder to engage
• Play that acts out scary events
• Changes in sleeping and eating patterns
• More easily frustrated and harder to comfort
• A return to earlier behaviors, like frequent night-wakening and thumb-sucking

We often think when children are little (toddler or preschool age), that they aren’t affected by the tension we feel or exhibit. But research shows that even very young children pick up on anger, tension, anxiety, or stress exhibited by caregivers. Reassure them of their safety and let them know that you will keep them from harm.

It is sad that such horrific events rock our society today, but they are part of our reality. The most important thing we can do is consider how those situations effect the ones we love.

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