How to ease fears after mass tragedies

How to ease fears after mass tragedies

Following last month’s school shooting in Parkland and a seemingly endless string of similar events, many parents wonder what they can do or say to help their children understand tragedy and alleviate their fears.

Dr. Joanna Lindell, a child psychiatrist at Advocate Children’s Hospital, gives parents advice on how to approach this conversation based on their child’s age.

“In general, the younger the child, the less likely they will probably hear about tragedies in the news, in comparison to tweens and teens who will undoubtedly be exposed one way or another, especially with access to social media,” explains Dr. Lindell.

Parents or caregivers can usually detect what is developmentally appropriate for their child to hear, she says.

Dr. Lindell recommends using good judgment to avoid evoking unnecessary fear, which is often created when kids are subjected to material (conversations or media) beyond their level of critical thinking and comprehension.

“In front of younger children, pay attention to what words are used in conversation and what topics are mentioned. Turn off electronics, especially TV, which may display frequent negative images of traumatic events. Viewing emotional images on a screen for hours on end does more harm than good,” Dr. Lindell advises.

On the other end, tweens and teens are more apt to discussing tragedies in the news, so conversations at home are encouraged.

“Dialogue can help decrease some of the sensationalism and deep fears rooted in these events by focusing on the facts,” says Dr. Lindell. “Parents also should empower their teen by suggesting they pay attention to their peers and report suspicious activity or behaviors they feel are concerning.”

After the Parkland shooting, many teens decided to not only talk about the tragedy at home but to also speak out on gun legislation.

“Encouraging the younger population to express their thoughts and feelings on certain topics can be validating, creates unity and instills confidence in youth,” says Dr. Lindell.

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About the Author

Julie Nakis
Julie Nakis

Julie Nakis, health enews contributor, is manager of public affairs at Advocate Children's Hospital. She earned her BA in communications from the University of Iowa – Go Hawkeyes! In her free time, she enjoys spending time with friends and family, exploring the city and cheering on the Chicago Cubs and Blackhawks.