father comforts his stressed daughter

How to Help Kids Feel Safe in Uncertain Times

By Nicholette Leanza, M.Ed, LPCC-S

Traumatic global and national events can negatively affect kids, even if they only witness it through news reports and social media. Violence covered in the media can lead children to experience higher levels of stress, but adults can help them process these senseless tragedies.
Here are a few tips on how to help kids cope during difficult times.

Talk With Kids About Their Feelings

Many people feel anxious, confused, or angry about the uncertainty of events like possible terrorist attacks. It is better to deal with these feelings than pretend they don’t exist. Encourage kids to discuss their concerns and listen to what they have to say.

If they are worried, validate them with words like, “I can see you are feeling really scared. This is a hard time for us.” Also, gently correct any misinterpretations they may have heard about the event and steer them back to a more factual interpretation.

Model a Positive Outlook

Many kids take their cues on how to respond to stressful situations from their parents or other important adults in their life. If they sense your distress or fears, they can feel overwhelmed and anxious. Adults should help youth focus on the positive aspects of the situation such as the ways people help other people during these distressing times.

Traumatic events often draw us together and remind us to be grateful for our loved ones. This is also an ideal time to learn about cooperation and respect for others as a means to celebrate differences rather than stereotypes and blame.

Maintain Daily Routines

Humans are generally creatures of habit, so kids always do better when their daily routines remain constant and their expectations stay the same. Adults should provide safety, support, and consistency to help youth feel secure — this is a very effective way to ease children’s fear and anxiety during distressing times.

Sometimes, younger children will worry that something will happen to them or to the people they care about, so it is important that they understand that very few people are out to hurt others and that adults are working hard to keep kids safe.

Limit Exposure to Media

Monitoring or limiting exposure to the pervasive media coverage of the violence will help kids manage their worry and anxiety. One way to monitor exposure is to watch the news with children so you can hear their thoughts about the situation and to answer any of their questions.

For older kids and teens, social media may play a larger role in how they interpret the event and so teaching them how to limit their own exposure to the violence is important. Perhaps the best decision is to unplug from all the various media sources and focus on being together as a family and as a support for one another.

In essence, violent acts can shatter any sense of security we thought we had in our lives. Finding comfort in the hope that the world can become a safer place for everyone will lead us to find ways to live together creatively rather than violently.