Helping Kids with Fears of War and Terrorism

 

These are uncertain, turbulent times, colored as they are by fears about terrorism. As a result, children as well as adults are experiencing higher levels of stress. When a flu bug is going around, conscientious parents make sure that their child is getting plenty of sleep, vitamins, and a healthy diet to build their immune system. How can we, in a similar fashion, build up our children’s capacity to deal with current stresses?

Teach life lessons

Although there is no magic pill, there is a healthy diet of social and emotional skills that you can provide children. Increasing these skills is the most effective way to help them deal with current stresses, as well as learn valuable lessons to last a lifetime. It is normal for them to feel afraid, yet there are things we can do to help our kids function optimally in these trying times. Here are some suggestions:

Discuss your child’s concerns

First ask your child what they have seen on TV or are hearing from peers, school and the news. Don’t push the issue. It’s best not to fill them with fears they don’t have, but also realize that concerns don’t go away if we try to ignore them. If they are worried, reassure with words like “I can see you are feeling really scared. This is a hard time for us.” “I know we’ll feel better when it’s over.” Avoid telling them “Everything will be okay,” because if something does happen, you’ll lose their trust.

Separate imagined from realistic fears

Entertainment and real events can blend together and their imaginations can run wild— like thinking that a war with ISIS will be like Star Wars. Children need to know that very few people are terrorists and that the war will be fought far away. Exposure to video games and violent movies makes it more difficult for many kids to differentiate between fantasy and the actual reality of war and destruction.

Kids respond differently

Some kids under stress become overwhelmed and act out, some internalize and develop physical symptoms, while others become more quiet and numb. Although some kids are aware of the stress and their feelings connected to it, others may show signs or symptoms without necessarily knowing what they are upset about. Watch for signs of sadness, aggression towards others, new fears that may seem unrelated to the war, or problems with making “bad” thoughts go away. Many children will start acting younger than their age and not want to leave your lap.

Limit exposure to the media

A young child’s experience of the world is very different from that of adults. In many ways, they live in a container or bubble that is their immediate social environment—their family, friends and school. They need protection to preserve that bubble of safety. The news and violent programming can be too upsetting. If you want to watch the news, do so after they go to bed. It isn’t helpful for them to see people dying in the streets or scary people wearing black hoods and masks. If they insist on watching, be with them so that you can gauge their reactions and talk about it.

Handle your own stress and emotions

Kids can literally feel your feelings and stress. The greatest gift you can give them is your own sense of well-being. Provide patience, safety, support and consistency to help them feel secure. If they sense your distress or fears, they can feel overwhelmed and unsettled. Share your own fears but do so with restraint.

Encourage healthy play

Allow some fantasy war play to vent frustrations, but don’t let it become aggressive. You can also encourage adding the roles of helpers and protectors such as police into your child’s play. Provide additional constructive outlets for children’s feelings such as drawing and writing stories and poems. Kids songs can also be effective teaching tools. Happy Kids Songs “Let ’Em Out,” encourages kids to express feelings in a healthy way and is custom-designed for this type of challenge.

Help them take actions to feel involved

Kids benefit from participating in solutions to problems. Include them in the activities that express your own sentiments. “Here’s one thing we can do about it…” Some may want to send letters or drawings to military families or people in public safety jobs. Tell them “We are doing everything we can to keep safe.”

Stick to routines

Help kids feel loved and safe by maintaining rituals of connection and keeping normal routines, rules and expectations. The only places to soften a bit might be if siblings want to share rooms, or if the bedtime “going to sleep” ritual needs to be a little bit longer for a time.

Find support as needed

If a family member is leaving for the war, let the school know so that your child can be nurtured accordingly. It’s helpful to create the sense of a close, connected community. Find support for yourself from local groups, church, synagogue or friends, and if needed, don’t be afraid to seek professional help from counselors and psychologists.

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