Helping children cope after community violence

The Australian Psychological Society [APS] has published guidelines for parents, caregivers and teachers as they and the children and young people in their care deal with the aftermath of the shooting in Christchurch. 

That fact that the footage of the shooting was available on news and social media platforms such as Facebook, who said they removed 1.5 million videos of the attack globally in the first 24 hours means that children and young people may have been exposed to the content without the knowledge of parents and caregivers.  

While the distressing and violent incident was not experienced first hand it was live-streamed on social media and the impact of viewing it has the potential to intrude into the daily life of the viewers. Many people, including children, may experience strong emotions such as anger, confusion, fear and the loss of a sense of safety for days, weeks or longer.

So what can parents, caregivers and teachers do?

The following guidelines are provided by The Australian Psychological Society: 

  • Engage in age-appropriate discussions. Encourage  [but don’t force] children to talk about their thoughts and feelings. The most difficult question for adults to answer is ‘WHY?’  The responses should help them develop a realistic understanding of the event and be as honest and thoughtful as possible.
  • Provide children with opportunities to express their feelings. Help children and young people put words to feelings.
  • Monitor media exposure. Young children can be shielded from traumatic events by not letting them see or hear media reports and older children viewing media stories of distressing violence can be supported if watching them with adults. 
  • Talk about how to treat others. Explain that people who advocate hate and violence are a tiny minority and the importance of encouraging peace and non-violence at all levels of society by promoting and understanding of people from different groups, cultures and faiths.
  • Look out for possible stress reactions. Look out for changes in children’s usual behaviour such as sleep difficulties, an increase in irritability and mood swings or being more withdrawn than usual.
  • Recognise safety and security needs and reassure children. Draw attention to the number of people who are doing what they can to keep people safe before, during and after an emergency, disaster or traumatic event.
  • Foster hope. Help children to see that the world is basically a safe place with good people outnumbering those who wish us harm.
  • Pay attention to your own reactions. Children will take their cues for how to respond from you so be mindful of your own reactions and model good coping skills for dealing with distressing and confusing events.
  • Seek professional assistance. Seek advice from school counsellors or psychologists.

Further Resources

The Australian Psychological Society [APS] Disaster Recovery Resources

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