Tragic news of multiple fatal shootings rocked Seattle today.

Children can be especially at risk to experience fear and anxiety as reactions to these events. Research shows that children who witness violence in regular news coverage, as well as in their families, schools and communities, are vulnerable to serious long-term emotional harm.

In the video below, Dr. Bob Hilt, child and adolescent psychiatrist at Seattle Children’s Hospital, discusses ways parents can help their children cope during disasters such as earthquakes, man-made disasters, and random acts of violence.

Tips for Parents

  • Take control of the messages your children are seeing. Limit the amount of TV coverage, especially graphic images.  If you do choose to have the TV on, watch with your child and talk about what you see. Answer your child’s questions and listen to their concerns. Teens have a greater ability to emotionally process these events and put them in context. Younger children haven’t yet developed that ability and instead tend to personalize these events, thinking they could happen to them.
  • Be honest with your child. Even young children are aware that something has happened.  Before answering questions, ask your child what they know or thinks has happened. Avoid over-answering her questions or giving long, involved answers.
  • Encourage your child to ask questions at any time. Children react at different times. You may not see immediate dramatic reactions. They may ask questions days or weeks later indicating they may be struggling with their response to events.
  • Be aware of your child’s feelings. Children may express their anxiety by being more withdrawn or shy; appear anxious or irritable; have more temper tantrums; have difficulty falling asleep or have nightmares. Allow and expect your child to go back to behaviors he may have given up, such as sleeping with the light on, sucking his thumb, sleeping with a special blanket or stuffed animal. If your child doesn’t want to talk about their feelings or fears, encourage them to color, draw or write down their feelings.
  • Stick to routines.  As best you can, keep your child on a regular schedule.  During stressful times, your child especially needs the safety and security that comes with regular routines.
  • Reassure your child that he is safe, your primary concern, and that he will not be left alone.
  • Develop a plan to manage your own feelings; anxious parents have greater difficulty helping their children manage their feelings.

Additional Resources

  • Information from the AAP about helping children cope with disaster
  • More information from Children’s about helping children cope with disaster