How do you explain terror attacks to a child?

Posted at 4:53 PM, Jun 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-13 16:53:07-04

CINCINNATI -- While adults across America are struggling with the tragic loss of life in Orlando, another challenge has surfaced:

What about the children who have witnessed the most deadly mass shooting in U.S. history?

Psychologists from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital offered the following tips when discussing the terror attack with a child:

  • Don’t be silent. Talk to your child about what happened. Even very young children have likely heard what has happened in the event of a major crisis.
  • Follow your child’s lead in communicating. Let them talk first, and correct any inaccurate information. Young children want simple answers, and it is important not to provide more than what the child asks for. Speak at your child’s developmental level.
  • Start by asking your child what he or she has heard about the events and what questions or concerns they have. If the child expresses worries or fear, tell them what people are doing to keep them safe but don’t dismiss their concerns. Help them identify strategies to cope with difficult feelings.
  • Minimize your child’s exposure to all forms of media. The younger the child, the less media he or she should consume. Even if they appear to be engrossed in play, children often overhear what you are watching on TV or listening to on the radio.
  • Children do not benefit from exposure to graphic sounds and images. The aftermath of a crisis is a good time to disconnect from the media and sit down to talk to your child. Explain to your child that media coverage can often incite fear that another attack could happen.
  • With older children and teens, monitor what they watch and ask them what they have seen on the internet or what they have heard through social media to get a better sense of their thoughts, fears and concerns
  • Encourage your child to ask questions. Children are better able to cope with crisis when they understand what has happened. Question and answer exchanges allows you to offer support.
  • Share your feelings about the attack with your child and the strategies you have used to cope with your concerns. Reassure your child that feeling upset is okay.
  • Don’t feel obligated to give a reason for what happened. It is okay to tell your child that you don’t know why at this time such a crime was committed.
  • Take care of yourself.  Children pick up on cues from adults.  If we can remain calm and continue with our regular routines, children’s fears will be eased.

If you have concerns about your child’s behavior, contact his or her pediatrician, other primary care providers or a qualified mental health care specialist.

For additional tips families can also visit the National Child Traumatic Stress Network