Tuesday, July 31, 2012

YOUTH FIRST: Help children express selves, to put massacre into perspective

As news of the Colorado movie theater massacre unfolded, I could not help but think of the children — those who were there as well as those who were "safe and sound" in their own homes.
The survivors will be traumatized for a very long time, but the horror also has left its mark on anyone who watched the 24/7 news coverage.

I spent much of my adult life working as a television journalist, gathering and reporting the news. Now, as the leader of a youth serving agency, I'm more concerned about how news is received and processed, especially by young minds.

According to child development experts, kids under the age of 8 should be safeguarded from disturbing images and information. But as they grow older it becomes more difficult to protect them from exposure. Murder and mayhem, both fact and fiction, appear everywhere, from movies and television shows to computers and phones.

The PBS Parents website www.pbs.org/parents shares helpful tips for talking to children about the news and helping them process scary stories in safe and healthy ways. For example:

Find out what your children already know by asking open-ended questions such as "What have you heard about it?"

Listen carefully to what your children share, acknowledge any feelings, and provide comfort if there are worries or fears.

Ask follow-up questions to encourage more thinking and sharing. For example: "Why do you think it happened?" or "What do you think people can do to help?"

Share simple, age-appropriate explanations. Give your children information they need to know without creating unnecessary alarm. Figure out what they can handle and avoid "oversharing." A few sentences may be all he needs.

Provide reassurance. If you remain calm, it will help relieve your children's anxieties. Actions often speak louder than words. Point out the steps you take to keep your family safe. Comfort your children with hugs.

Parents and other caregivers also can help children by role-modeling coping strategies. Show them how to acknowledge and describe their feelings instead of avoiding and hiding emotions.
Help children understand what happens when feelings are ignored or buried. Try sharing this simple analogy used in a Youth First program called "In It to Win It" based on Sean Covey's book "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens."

Discuss or, if you are brave enough, demonstrate what happens when you shake up a full bottle of soda. The pressure builds up inside and, when you remove the top, the soda explodes.
Similarly, if we keep our fears and frustrations bottled up, a simple thing such as a twist of the cap can trigger a violent eruption of emotions. Work with your children to identify healthy outlets and safe ways to express feelings.

Helping others can be another healing response to tragedies or crises. Involve your children in volunteering for or donating to organizations that help people in harm's way. The process of giving back will go a long way toward counteracting the evil and multiplying the good in our world.
Parri O. Black is president & CEO of Youth First, Inc., a local nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening youths and families. To learn more about Youth First, call 812-421-8336 or visit


© 2012 Evansville Courier & Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

No comments:

Post a Comment