April 16, 2013
As a mother, I understand that our children care about two things:
1. Can mommy and daddy take care of me?
2. Am I safe?
If a child has been exposed to these images, or has learned about the disaster in Boston from a friend – try listening. You might hear that they are scared. This fear may come in the form of a question such as, “Could that happen here?” or “How can we stop this from happening?”
Our job as parents is simply to reassure them that they are safe. Reflective listening works best in these situations. Try saying things like, “It sounds like your scared. I know we are safe and I’m not worried about it. I would never put you in a situation I thought was harmful.”
Most children are exposed to far more information that they can realistically process. For instance, parents who would never let their 8 year old watch Saw II may think that there is no harm in having a child in the room while the parent watches the evening news. The news can be extremely disturbing to children, because:
1. They know that it’s real (most kids understand that movies are not real; even so, things that they see are still very hard to forget, which is why movie ratings are important.)
2. They don’t have the life experience to put what they see and hear into perspective. If they hear about a “killer bomb,” it will be frightening to them.
3. Daily exposure to traumatic events can eventually desensitize children to brutality. It is this desensitization that leads to the tacit acceptance of cruelty—cyber bullying, ignoring another child’s cries for help on the playground. We have become a nation that tolerates and encourages casual mean spiritedness
According to psychologist Dr. Robert Pressman, “Images seen on TV are sometimes impossible to remove from your child’s mind – they can last a lifetime. Words said by the parent can be softened and carefully chosen so their child can understand, but not feel too anxious.”
Many times children don’t talk about fear. It may present itself in other ways. Often when children have been exposed to something scary they want to sleep in bed with their parents. Other times, they awaken with nightmares. So what should a tired parent do when this happens?
“A child feels safest when the routines of the day remain the same. Don’t bring them in bed with you! Keeping a regular bedtime routine, and having your child sleep in their own bed, in the long run, helps them to feel safe.” Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman, LICSW
Rebecca Jackson is the CEO of Good Parent, Inc. and the mother of a 15 year old boy, and 4 1/2 year old girl.