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Extension offers help for children frightened by news

Posted 7/20/2012

Colorado theater shooting may make children fearful for their own safety

University of Nevada Cooperative Extension child development experts say that news coverage of events like the mass shooting at a movie theater in Colorado can frighten children and trigger fears about their own safety.

But UNCE Youth Development Specialist Jackie Reilly said there are ways teachers, parents and other caregivers can support children in dealing with traumatic events in the news.

"It’s important to acknowledge the frightening parts of this event," said Reilly, an expert on child abuse prevention who works with child care providers, youth-serving agencies and child care licensing agencies in Washoe County and the state. "Your children may be afraid that this kind of thing might happen to them, so reassure them that they are loved and are safe."

Here are some other tips suggested by Reilly and other UNCE child-development experts:

  • Children benefit greatly from support and caring expressed by the adults in their lives. Create an environment in your home or classroom that encourages respect for everyone’s feelings and emotions.
  • Reduce or limit exposure to television images and news coverage. Parents should be aware of how much exposure to this news their children are getting. The frightening images and repetition of the scenes can be disturbing for children. If children do see TV coverage, parents and other caregivers should be willing to talk with them about what they saw. Let children ask questions—it’s OK if you don’t have all the answers. What’s important is giving them the opportunity to express their fears.
  • Let children air their feelings. While the impulse of some adults may be to downplay or avoid the news, it’s important to create an environment that will allow children to express their fears. Most child development and parent educators agree on the importance of letting children talk about their feelings. Having open lines of communication can actually help decrease anxiety and fears.
  • Be creative. For children who are too young to talk or do not feel comfortable talking about their feelings, expressive techniques such as play, art and music can provide additional ways for children to express their feelings and let you know what may be troubling them.

Some local sources that will help parents and child care providers:

For national resources for helping children cope with frightening events in the news, see:

If you need additional comments, contact:

reillyj@unce.unr.edu, Extension Specialist in Youth Development at 775-784-4848
weigel@unce.unr.edu, Extension Specialist in Human Development at 775-784-4848

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