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03-07 Helping children feel secure in tumultuous times

Helping children feel secure in tumultuous times

“Mass gun shootings. Looming nuclear war. Fear of terrorist attacks. Global warming. Humanitarian crises and refugees. Volatile political climate in the United States and globally.” In these tumultuous times characterized by an endless stream of negative news, children and adolescents are among the worst affected individuals. The overexposure to tragic or disturbing national and global events can wreak havoc on the emotional health of youngsters, often manifesting as symptoms of depression and anxiety.

In such a situation, children might feel unsafe, avoid crowded areas and mass transportation systems, and suffer from recurring nightmares. A January 2018 survey, commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation in the United Kingdom, found that 41 percent parents of children aged 5-18 believed that the threat of terrorism was causing anxiety among youngsters. Nearly 23 percent parents thought that their children were distressed due to an impending nuclear war, and nearly a third (32 percent) indicated that their children were concerned about global warming and climate change.

A spate of mass shootings in the U.S., with the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14, 2018 being the most recent one, has left parents struggling with the difficult task of discussing gun violence with their children. Since young minds may not be able to properly synthesize the abundance of information available on social media and other platforms, it becomes incumbent on parents to reassure children by dispelling their doubts.

Parents need not have all the answers

It is natural for children, especially very young kids, to have several questions regarding stressful situations. Parents should not shy away from telling their children that they may not have answers to all their questions. Experts recommend the following tips to help parents manage depressed or anxious children:

  • Having age-appropriate conversations: Very young children need not be given excessive details about mass shootings or similar incidents. However, facts should be shared in an honest and transparent manner with older children or those in their late teens. Information should be provided in a simplified manner with sufficient room for answering questions, sometimes repetitively.
  • Overseeing children’s media exposure: The easy access to social media platforms can lead to an overabundance of information which youngsters may not be able to comprehend easily. Parents can help children filter and synthesize the information and even limit their access to various media temporarily, if need be.
  • Validating feelings and providing safe spaces: Reassure children/adolescents that while it is normal to be concerned, all possible measures are being taken to ensure their safety. Children should be assured that they have access to safe avenues to discuss their feelings. Parents may sometimes need to voluntarily broach the topic of a tragedy so that children can open up and give vent to their feelings.
  • Monitoring children’s behavior: Children’s anxious behavior can manifest in various ways, and parents should watch out for indicative signs. Youngsters may be reluctant to go to school, not want their parents to go to work, or show an aversion to activities which previously interested them. They may also re-enact tragic situations while playing. Monitoring these behaviors can help parents intervene and take corrective action.
  • Seeking professional help: If children’s emotional health does not improve within a few days, or if parents are unsure of how to manage their youngsters after the initial phase, it is recommended to seek professional help. A pediatrician, guidance counselor or therapist can provide greater support in managing children’s depressive symptoms.

Helping children feel reassured

In the aftermath of a national tragedy or adverse global event, helping children feel reassured and secure should be parents’ immediate priority. Disasters, such as terrorist attacks, political upheaval and mass shootings can elicit strong responses, including anger, frustration and confusion. Managing these reactions appropriately can help restore normalcy in children’s lives.

In 2016, an estimated 3.1 million adolescents aged 12-17 (12.8 percent of the age group) had a major depressive episode (MDE), while 2.2 million adolescents had a MDE with severe impairment. Treatment was received by 40.9 percent and 46.7 percent adolescents in these groups, respectively. Sovereign Health of Rancho San Diego provides evidence-based teen depression treatment programs which help adolescents manage anger and stress. Contact our 24/7 helpline or chat online to learn more about our teen depression rehab centers.

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