Trauma Informed Considerations & Strategies: Helping Kids Manage Distressing Events & News
In our culture of breaking news, social media feeds, broadcasted reports of violence and tragedies around the world and in our communities, responses such as, but not limited to, worry, sorrow, helplessness, confusion, unease, and anger can be deeply experienced. Young people can be particularly vulnerable to constant media exposure and these experiences, influencing their own reactions, feelings, questions, and serious concerns. Adults involved in the lives of youth have a significant role in aiding them to cope. It is important as trauma practitioners to try the best we can to also help and provide advocacy or education on this topic.
This post offers some trauma informed considerations to be mindful of when addressing troubling events and news with youth, as well as sensory-based approaches to empower coping:
Be Honest. Adults may want to protect kids from stressful and alarming news, but you should be open about events that have happened in a developmentally appropriate conversation for the youth’s age. If a child or teen has questions, answer them truthfully, with a calm composure, and in a simple manner. Withholding information or avoiding acknowledgement about a situation may cause increased anxiety, confusion, and insecurity within the child, especially if they could potentially receive information from others (i.e. peers, television, Internet, newspapers, etc.). Remember also that providing too much information can overwhelm kids and create a sense of heightened fear as well.
Instill and Reinforce Safety. Youth need for adults to emphasize that in this moment they are safe. Reassure youth that there are loving, kind, and trusted adults in their lives to help, protect, and attend to their emotional and physical well-being. Instilling or supporting a routine in the child or teen’s day-to-day activities helps create predictability, decrease uncertainty, and offers important moments for the youth to feel in control. Generally, knowing what to expect creates a healthy structure of purpose for the day. Adults can also be influential role models for children through establishing a safe environment at home, in the community, and in the world through our own words and actions towards others and events.
Validate Feelings. It is important for adults to acknowledge and support the emotions that children and adolescents are dealing with through listening with an empathetic and nonjudgmental ear. Validation of feelings shows that emotional reactions are normal, human, valuable, and that the youth’s experience matters. Offer developmentally appropriate and healthy ways for youth to express their emotions. For example, drawing or art expression may offer a way for youth of all ages to communicate how they are feeling when words may be a challenge to identify or share. Adults can also create a safe atmosphere that welcomes self-expression and invites open-ended opportunities for sharing or checking in about a child/teen’s day.
Relational Enrichment: Engaging in healthy and meaningful activities can offer an additional way to support a youth’s ability to cope and strengthen their connection to nurturing relationships, as well as giving them opportunities to manage stress through play, creativity, nature, and spending time together. Relational enrichment can also include getting kids or the family involved in volunteering or other interests that encourage benefitting others, service, or that support life affirming values such as generosity, kindness, compassion, gratitude, and respect.
Attention to Wellness: Attention to a child’s overall wellbeing - not just emotionally and in their relationships, but also physically - is equally important for helping kids cope with traumatic stress. Healthy habits in sleeping, eating, exercising, personal hygiene, and introducing ways to relax ones body and mind can strengthen the immune system, sense of self, concentration, and other areas of functioning important to well-being.
Limiting Exposure to News & Media: Today’s cycle of ongoing and 24/7 access to news reports and coverage is overwhelming for adults to manage and make sense of, let alone children and teens. Create opportunities to limit or take intentional breaks from media exposure or related topics - on television and social media, and also be cautious of streaming video, images, audio, or interviews, which can be graphic. When a particularly high-publicized event or tragedy has happened, reducing the amount of time we are subjected to news reports or taking a complete time-out from updates and broadcasts for a couple of days can be useful.
Creative Expression: Engaging in music, art, writing, journaling, and other creative practices can be a great outlet for youth to contain their feelings and thoughts, as well as create safe ways to support self-regulation, routine, and comfort:
- Play (or sing!) calming and feel good music/songs or create a special playlist together that can be used in the car, for bedtime, relaxation, or self-soothing;
- Fill a box with various art supplies such as crayons, markers, colored pencils, and paper to use for drawing and self-expression. Three dimensional art materials such as Play-doh, Crayola Model Magic, or even pipe cleaners can be great for kids to use for relieving tension and stress;
- For youth who enjoy and find release and regulation through writing, purchase a special journal or notebook and pen for them to use.
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