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Help children cope with fears beyond their control
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Children often need extra attention whenever catastrophic events dominate the news and generate increased concerns among adults.
Louise Davis, family and child development specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said children often realize when parents are concerned or scared by disasters such as the United States has experienced. Children often experience great feelings of insecurity and need special attention to calm their fears.
Many adults became glued to the television when the first reports came of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Davis warned that television reports can be frightening to young children.
"Children's lives should be kept as normal as possible," Davis said. "Instead of letting them watch lengthy television reports on the attacks, encourage them to play outside or in their rooms -- whatever is most normal."
She said adults should supervise children when they watch news reports. The media often give worst-case scenarios. Adults can calm fears by explaining the news in terms they understand and by reassuring them that they live in a very safe area.
"Don't belittle their concerns or fears. Help children cope by listening, believing, discussing and advising them," Davis said. "Try to maintain a consistent schedule for the child in terms of homework, chores and activities. Assure young children that their parents, their teachers and the police are doing everything possible to make sure they are safe."
She said to accept the child's emotion by saying, "I know you're frightened. It's OK to be scared. I'm here to take care of you. You're going to be OK." Parents should not reinforce the child's fears by emphasizing their own fears.
"Children reflect how parents and teachers react to the news. Elementary teachers, like parents of this age group, should let the children dictate how much time is spent on the subject of the catastrophic events," Davis said. "Allow the children to bring up the subject, then respond to their questions with general information. Recognize their fears, but don't focus on them."
Davis said there is a difference in fear and anxiety in children. Typically, fear is a response to a certain situation, like being afraid of animals. Anxiety refers to worry about something that hasn't happened, such as an upcoming event or trauma.
She said junior and senior high school students are better prepared for more specific details of the disasters, but they can still have concerns that should not be overlooked by adults.