Tips for helping kids cope with violence

Tips from the National Institute of Mental Illness for how to help children cope with news of violence and trauma.

[box]How can I help young children who experienced trauma?

Helping children can start immediately, even at the scene of the event. Most children recover within a few weeks of a traumatic experience, while some may need help longer. Grief, a deep emotional response to loss, may take months to resolve. Children may experience grief over the loss of a loved one, teacher, friend, or pet. Grief may be re-experienced or worsened by news reports or the event’s anniversary. Some children may need help from a mental health professional. Some people may seek other kinds of help from community leaders. Identify children who need support and help them obtain it.

Examples of problematic behaviors could be:

  • Refusing to go to places that remind them of the event
  • Emotional numbness
  • Behaving dangerously
  • Unexplained anger/rage
  • Sleep problems including nightmares.

Adult helpers should:

  • Pay attention to children
  • Listen to them
  • Accept/do not argue about their feelings
  • Help them cope with the reality of their experiences.

Reduce effects of other stressors, such as:

  • Frequent moving or changes in place of residence
  • Long periods away from family and friends
  • Pressures to perform well in school
  • Transportation problems
  • Fighting within the family
  • Being hungry.

Monitor healing. It takes time. Do not ignore severe reactions. Pay attention to sudden changes in behaviors, speech, language use, or strong emotions. Remind children that adults love them, support them, will be with them when possible.

Parents and caregivers should also limit viewing of repetitive news reports about traumatic events. Young children may not understand that news coverage is about one event and not multiple similar events.