Traumatic events in the media

Family watching frightening TV

It is important to limit your child’s exposure to TV and other media. In times when we are bombarded with images and stories in the media about difficult and upsetting topics, be they flu pandemics, natural disasters, wars or terrorist attacks, parents often cannot avoid their young children hearing or seeing information about these events. Here are some strategies to help you and your child manage the stress and upset that can result from seeing upsetting things in the media.

Through television and other media children can sometimes be exposed to violent and disturbing images of war, terrorism, pandemics, disasters and tragic accidents. Some are affected by these images more than others. However, young children are very sensitive to their parents’ and caregivers’ reactions. If you and your spouse are upset, or if your child’s regular caregiver or teacher is upset, chances are good your child will become distressed too.

It is a good idea to limit young children’s exposure to violence or upsetting stories in the news. It is even more important to limit your own exposure, if it is preoccupying you or distressing you. Turn the TV and radio off. Reassure your child that you are basically all right, even if you are sad. If it is important for you to keep track of what is happening during a traumatic event, then turn on the TV or radio at key news moments to catch up. But turn it off again and reconnect with your child.

It is also important to limit the time you spend worriedly talking about the event or situation with others and give your child some quality attention. Some children are very sensitive and if you are anxiously talking to teachers, grandparents, neighbours and others.

If your child does see some news event that upsets him, or upsets you, talk about it. It is not necessary to explain it in detail. You can simply say that a sad thing happened and some people got hurt and died. In many cases you can tell your child that the event happened far away, and emphasize that you and your family are safe. Don’t forget to tell him that the people in charge are doing everything they can to protect you against the danger, and to make sure this doesn’t happen again. It may also help some children feel better if they help out in some way. For example, they can send drawings or letters to the communities touched by the event.

If your young child is still anxious over an event that happened more than one month ago, consult your child’s physician.