It’s normal for us to want to keep our children away from news about horrific events like the Paris attacks, but according to the experts, it’s better to talk to your children than keep them in the dark.
It can be hard for adults to fully understand the impact of an event like this, but for children it’s even harder, and the effects can be long lasting.
Helen Bailey, Counselling Centre Supervisor and Psychologist at Kids Helpline, says it’s very important to have open conversations with your kids about events like the Paris attacks.
“Your child will be exposed to this type of news on social media and television anyway and it’s hard to limit viewing of that, so it’s better to have heard it from you,” she says.
“It’s important to invite your children to talk about the situation and not shut it down or ignore it because children can get quite stressed and anxious and the more comfort they have the better.”
Helen says you should be as accurate as possible and never lie about the situation.
“You need to be transparent and tell them exactly what’s happened in simple language,” she says.
“Obviously you wouldn’t go into the details about physical injuries and things like that, but just let them know that they’re safe.
“Go through how you would deal with certain types of situations and the strengths you have on how to deal with it. It just prepares your child for any surprises down the track.”
Helen says events like these can cause ongoing symptoms for children.
“Younger children of the pre-school age tend to localise information, they don’t have the cognitive capacity to think about it happening overseas or elsewhere, they think it’s happening here. This can cause sleeping problems and nightmares,” she says.
“Older children have more of an understanding, which means they have more questions and concerns. Research shows when children aged from 8 -12 are exposed to that sort of violence they are 5 to 10 per cent more likely to have traumatic symptoms continue into adulthood.
“Boys tend to display their anxiety and stress through irritation and frustration, whereas girls will be more emotional. You just need to let them know that it’s normal and it’s OK to feel this way even if you don’t know the people involved.”
Helen says there are a few things you can do if you notice your child isn’t coping with the situation.
“Obviously children look up to their parents, so you’ve just got to let them know it’s all OK,” she says.
“Quoting lines from what the government have said is also something you can do to assure them that we are safe here.
“If that’s doesn’t work and you notice ongoing symptoms a week or two later, book them in to see a psychologist or a counselling service because they have more of an idea on how to talk to children about things like this.”
Helen says other symptoms can include bed wetting, which can start up again in older children as a result of anxiety or stress, a sick feeling in the stomach or constant headaches, reluctance to go to school, low grades, aggressive behaviour (especially in boys) and anxiety issues like being scared to be left alone or being scared out in public.
If you feel like your child isn’t coping, seek a professional’s advice or call Parentline on 1300 30 1300 to speak to a counsellor.