The intensity and number of traumatic events happening in the world today can feel overwhelming, even as an adult. For children and youth, it may be scary, confusing and cause feelings of insecurity. Feeling secure is essential to healthy growth and development, and kids always look to trusted adults for a sense of safety, especially during uncertain times.
The most important thing parents and caregivers can do is be present and available to their children, providing a safe space for children to be heard, ask questions and share feelings.
Check out the tips and resources below for supporting kids through tough times:
Check in with yourself and get support if you need it. When you’re stressed and anxious, children will know it. Although we might think children are unaware of how we’re feeling, even babies as young as three months old can sense when a parent or caregiver is upset. Children look to us to help manage their emotions, and it's difficult to support them if we’re dysregulated. The County offers support for mental health.
Consider media exposure and set boundaries. When choosing appropriate media for your young child, consider the “three C’s”: Child, Content, and Context (Zero to Three, 2018). Think about the child as an individual, including their temperament and personality, as well as age and current mood. Consider if the content is engaging your child in a meaningful way or if your child is a passive bystander to the information. Lastly, the context in which children are exposed to media matters. When children are alone with media, they do not have the opportunity to ask questions or engage in conversation about what they’re hearing and seeing on screen. Learn more about young children and media.
For older children, media often plays a bigger role in their lives, so it’s important to encourage conversations about media habits and set clear limits. Learn more about setting family media agreements.
Think about what’s appropriate for your child to hear. Talking to your child about traumatic events can be very difficult, and it can be hard to know how much to share about challenging topics like violence, crime and war. Consider their age and developmental stage before having a discussion. Young children will struggle to make sense of abstract concepts whereas older children will have an idea about these concepts but will still need space to ask questions and process information with adults. Learn more about how to have tough conversations with children of different ages.
Talk as a family about how you can take action. Alongside validating feelings like worry and fear, you can also focus on the helpers in traumatic events. It’s important for children and adults to recognize the people acting with courage and kindness and to celebrate the positive stories. Check in with your child to see if they would like to participate in taking positive action. Research causes and talk about how you can help as a family. Even small actions can combat feelings of helplessness and contribute to a sense of community and connection. Learn more about talking to your children about conflict and war.
Know when to reach out for help. Continue to check in with yourself and your family. It’s important to recognize signs and symptoms that may suggest you need some professional support. When mental distress begins to disrupt sleeping and eating patterns, impacts your ability to focus or complete day-to-day tasks, it may be time to reach out for additional support from a medical or mental health professional.
Just like adults, children may experience a range of responses to distress. Many will be normal reactions and will only last a short period of time, but it is important to keep an eye out for any changes in how they behave or feel. Learn more about recognizing signs of distress in children.
Triple P Positive Parenting Program
Many families are facing new challenges, and Triple P is a program that is here for you. To help your child or teenager learn to manage and reduce anxious feelings, explore Fear-Less Triple P Online to find strategies that work for you and your family.