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The war in Iraq. The loss of space shuttle Columbia. The random acts of a sniper in Maryland and Virginia. The terrorist attacks of 9/11.
The loss of life and injuries from these events is devastating and frightening for us all. How can you, as a parent or guardian, deal with your child’s fear and anxiety that may not be easily expressed? There is no single or easy answer. How you respond should depend on whether members of your family have been personally involved, what your child has heard or seen on the news and the age of your child.
Children need to know there are real dangers in the world – whether it is Anthrax, smallpox, a sniper, plane crashes or children being abducted – but that grown-ups are working hard to make sure they are safe. Grown-ups in their world include parents, teachers, police officers and doctors. Of course, sensible precautions should be part of every child’s learning.
For example, turn off the TV when young children are around. Watching scenes of devastation and anguished adults is not healthy for young children. Provide reassurance that you love your child and that you are here to protect him or her. You can do that without discussing what is happening.
Here are some additional thoughts to consider:
Determining the best way to talk about tragedies with your child will depend on your child’s ability to understand. Children who want to talk should be able to do so. Older children – those in middle and high school – should certainly have a safe place in which they can talk about their worries. But it is OK if they do not want to talk. They should not be forced into speaking about concerns.
Children who are experiencing more than typical worry and display things like behavior problems, poor sleep and excessive anxiety should be carefully assessed. The first step would be for the parents to check their own communication of these worries to the child.
If parents are concerned about symptoms of anxiety or depression, they should consider seeking help for the child. Many children, but not every child, will get better if their parents convey the sense that the grown-ups are doing everything they can to make their world as safe as possible.
You should look for signs that your child may need extra help to get through this ordeal. It is normal to be troubled by these tragedies. However, your child may need professional help if his or her fears, anxieties, or changes in behaviors do not go away after a few days or persist beyond what you had anticipated.
Children who have experienced other losses or trauma in their lives, such as the death of a close relative, physical abuse, or bullying, may have a stronger reaction to seeing and hearing about the tragedies such as the war in Iraq. Younger children may show signs of stress or aggression. Sleeping and eating habits may change as well.
If you think your child is having difficulty coping with current events, consult your child’s doctor or a mental health professional.
Children's Hospital's main campus is located in the Lawrenceville neighborhood. Our main hospital address is:
UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh
One Children’s Hospital Way
4401 Penn Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15224
In addition to the main hospital, Children's has many convenient locations in other neighborhoods throughout the greater Pittsburgh region.
With myCHP, you can request appointments, review test results, and more.
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Interested in giving to Children's Hospital? Support the hospital by making a donation online, joining our Heroes in Healing monthly donor program, or visiting our site to learn about the other ways you can give back.