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How much of the news do you let your children see

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Natural disasters such as Fukushima in Japan are disturbing to all of us and it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed and helpless as we witness people lose their lives and their homes. It’s almost impossible to protect children from being exposed to some of the inevitable and extensive media coverage, and as a result many of them may feel shocked or traumatised by scenes of devastation and deeply insecure about the safety of their futures.

Putting into context

Teachers will be talking about the events in school, which leads to kids talking about it among themselves, often not understanding important details like how far away Japan is. Consequently they can become very concerned that a similar disaster will take place close to home. Concerns about being separated from their families, having their homes destroyed and losing friends and relatives can develop into patterns of anxiety and nightmares.

Given that we live in a world that experiences frequent major disasters, it’s important to think about the best way to communicate with your children about the events and their consequences, and to be aware of signs that they may be becoming overwhelmed or traumatised.

Hear their fears

separation anxietyListening to their fears is a fundamental first step for any parent or teacher. Being prepared to hear, understand and validate their perspective without rushing in to reassure is very important, as this will allow their emotions to be expressed and their nervous systems to settle down. Once you have heard their feelings, it’s important to reassure them of their safety and security. Remind your children that you, their school and community around them are all focussed on their safety. Bring to their minds examples of people who are working to protect people such as police, neighbourhood officials and teachers.

Keep details limited

With younger children, keep the amount of information that you discuss limited to basic facts, use simple words and avoid dramatic descriptions such as devastation. Let them know that weather changes have caused a specific event in a certain part of the world.

An obvious question from school aged children is ‘will this happen to us?’ Make sure that you don’t lie but find a way to reassure them that it is unlikely that this will happen in their community. Be cautious of youngsters watching the news listening to radio discussions that are focusing on mass death or destruction because it can be too much for them to psychologically process. Personal short discussions over time are the best way for this information to be understood and digested.

Older children

With older children and teens you can go into more detail and many of them will have had access to some news reports. Steer them away from focusing too much on graphic details and instead help them to express their feelings and talk directly about the situation answering their questions truthfully, being mindful of still protecting them even though they are older.

Behaviour to watch for

Keep an eye out for the development of symptoms such as headaches, excessive worry, stomach aches, increased arguing, back aches, irritability, trouble sleeping or eating, loss of concentration, nightmares, withdrawal, refusal to go to school or clinging behaviour. If you notice behaviour changes such as these find a way to give your child time to talk and have their worries heard.

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About Jenny Smith

About Jenny Smith

Jenny Smith is a freelance writer and facilitator specialising in mental health, well-being and ecotherapy. She writes for National Mind and The Working Parent and facilitates training in the Work that Reconnects and Ecotherapy. She is inspired by nature, gardening, love and non-duality teachings

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