How to soften sting of scary news
1. How can I tell if my child’s anxious?
2. How can I help my child feel safe?
3. Should I limit exposure to news?
Turn on the TV, and the world can seem like a scary place. News of severe weather, death, pandemics, crime, protests and conflict may churn up stress, especially for young children.
Have you been wondering how to help your child put it into context?
1. HOW CAN I TELL IF MY CHILD’S ANXIOUS?
Children’s fear or anxiety triggered by alarming news can range from healthy to worrisome, says Ali Cunningham Abbott, associate professor of clinical mental health counseling at Lynn University in Boca Raton.
For example, it’s healthy if they ask questions, such as, “Will I get the virus?” or “Why are people protesting?” “It’s a symbol of curiosity of what they overheard, what they saw on TV or maybe of their friends asking them questions,” Abbott says.
However, it could be a warning sign if the questions become more frequent or intense, such as, “Is the storm going to destroy our house?” Children can manifest their worry into physical ailments, so watch for headaches, stomachaches or sleeping problems.
“Once you’ve ruled out a legitimate health concern, parents should consider whether their child is reacting to being overly exposed to scary news and information,” she says.
2. HOW CAN I HELP MY CHILD FEEL SAFE?
Talk about what they saw and heard, even if your child is young, says Stephanie De La Cruz, clinical director for Center for Child Counseling.
“It’s definitely important to have a conversation about it, even as early as 1 and 2. You don’t have to wait until they are verbal. Just because they can’t articulate back to us doesn’t mean they don’t internalize what they see on TV,” she says.
Explain in age-appropriate language what is happening. For older children, you can use a prompt like, “It seems like you saw or heard disturbing information. Would you tell me what you’re thinking or feeling about what you saw/heard?” De La Cruz says.
“It’s important to understand first how they’re interpreting news and not to make assumptions,” she says.
3. SHOULD I LIMIT EXPOSURE TO NEWS?
Abbott and De La Cruz recommend that you watch the news when your children are occupied or asleep and not keep the TV on as background noise.
However, De La Cruz suggests considering what can be realistically controlled given children’s media access via devices, computers and friends. She advises couching responses to anxiety from a place of parental responsibility.
“These are adult problems, so adults are taking care of it,” she says. “Show children the ways that we, as parents, are keeping them and each other safe.”
Center for Child Counseling offers free telehealth services for children and teens, including a workshop on coping with stress. Click here for details and to register.
- Ali Cunningham Abbott, associate professor of clinical mental health counseling, Lynn University; private practitioner, The Center for Treatment of Anxiety & Mood Disorders
- Stephanie De La Cruz, clinical director, Center for Child Counseling
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Center for Family Services of Palm Beach County
Positive Parenting Program, known as Triple P, offers free seminars and one-on-one guidance to help families improve the parent-child relationship561-616-1222 Website Email