Often when we treat anxious children, they are fearing something that hasn’t actually happened and most likely won’t happen, but lately we have been helping children manage their fears about world events. For kids who struggle with feeling safe, children who have existential fears, kids who’s brains are wired to alert them to any sign of danger, just listening to the evening news can be quite a trigger. A few signs that a child is struggling include avoiding things that they enjoy, seeking reassurance, becoming irritable when people are discussing the news, and spending more time than usual in their rooms. Not only do we need to respond in a compassionate way that gives them a safe space to process their fears, but we need to teach parents what to pay attention to and how to help their children through these increasingly common traumatic world events.
In anxiety work, we help children face their fears by being courageous and talking back to the bully in their brain. How do we help them be courageous in a world that is unpredictable and can become unsafe at any moment? I would argue that it isn’t much different than what we do already. Having a good relationship with the child so that they feel comfortable sharing their feelings and fears is the foundation to helping them. Teaching them the difference between what is dangerous in this moment versus what we fear might happen helps them have some sense of control over their response to fear. The next step is to help them live their life fully even with their fears. The bully’s aim is to make our lives smaller and less enjoyable. It is our work to teach them that they have a choice in this and with the help of the adults in their life, they can continue to participate in activities they enjoy.
Involving a child’s parents in your session is essential in helping children cope with media coverage of traumatic world events. Parents will need to learn to be aware of their child’s moods and behavior to be tuned in to a possible struggle. Being aware of what is on the news, what time they are watching the news, and where the children are when they are discussing the news is important. However, shielding kids from world events is impossible so you will also want to help the parents come up with age appropriate ways to explain what they are seeing during this media coverage. Creating a safe environment to process these events will help their children learn how to face their fears and feel the accompanying emotions without needing to engage in avoidance or reassurance seeking behaviors.
The world can be a scary place but I would challenge families to become stronger and healthier in the midst of all that is happening.
For more tips on how to help children cope, click on the link below: