- Posted April 23, 2014 by
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The South Korean ferry disaster: Explaining tragedies to your children
Even if you're not the type of person who keeps news programs playing on a constant loop on your TV from sun up to sundown, no doubt you're like many well informed adults who tend to stay abreast of current news events -- some of them being so tragic and unavoidable that your children can't help but overhear the sad circumstances and look to you for clues on how to react.
The missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 and the heartbreaking reactions of the passengers' loved ones. The tragic deaths of high school students aboard the ill-fated South Korean ferry and stalwart parents who stood on the shore for days, refusing to eat, in front of guards that were positioned there to prevent them from jumping in the water.
How do we explain tragedies like these to kids? If your child is anxious, ignoring such situations and leaving the explanations to media may cause anxiety disorders, social phobias and panic attacks. These may not appear overnight, but manifest themselves in adolescence and adult age.
"Limiting exposure to bad news won't hurt a child as long as it doesn't drift too far in the direction of mind control and away from simply maintaining a calm environment," advises Dr. Tali Shenfield on her blog. Dr. Shenfield is a Toronto-based expert in the field of school and clinical child psychology.
When faced with bad news that can't be shielded from children, Dr. Shenfield suggests that we remain as calm as possible and mentally prepared, in order to give young ones a sense of self-control instead of encouraging them to pick up on the anxiety and worrisome behavior of the adults surrounding them.
For example, if weather radar reports of potential tornados tend to frighten your youths, creating an action plan of discussing where to hide in the basement or safely within an interior room might provide a calming presence to all involved. The same circumstances can be adapted for a child with fears of a house fire, or those that never want to take a boat cruise or fly on a plane after witnessing tragedies on the news. Most importantly, an emphasis on the positive outcomes of plenty of flights and cruises each day could help balance overwrought fears in the face of devastating news. If a period of detox from 24-7 news viewing is in order, practice taking a break from a constant stream of upsetting updates.
It also helps not to assume that the child having the most visceral and visibly upset reaction to tragic news is the only one being affected. Certain children tend to keep their emotions guarded and close to the vest, but can still feel a whirlwind of emotions beneath their placid exteriors. Therefore, if your children mention things they've heard on the news or from their friends at school and you get the sense that it's weighing heavily on their minds, encourage them to talk about their feelings instead of stuffing them deep inside. If additional help is needed, seek out the advice of a school counselor or professional for additional techniques and coping strategies