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Reassurance, limited media exposure key in helping children cope


One of the biggest issues parents will have to face Thursday morning is their child’s fear of returning to school.

Parents in Summerside on their way to pick up their children after learning of the provincewide evacuation of all schools. 

It’s something many parents, via social media, expressed in the hours after a provincewide evacuation of schools late Wednesday morning.

“The tricky bit is tomorrow. If you can get them past tomorrow then you are home free,” said Jan Henry, a Summerside-based registered social worker with 40 years experience. “Unless another traumatic event happened at school, most of the children won’t have any kind of lasting effect.”

Henry said parents should be acutely aware of how they handle the situation, ensuring that they are not sharing too much information with their children.

“Kids will take their cues from their parents. If the parents are upset or appeared worried, or different somehow, not taking it in stride, the kids pick up on that,” she added. “Kids pick up on all kinds of things. They are like little thermometers.”

Henry, who holds a masters in social work, said parents should approach the situation with their children “in a matter-of-fact way” and be mindful of their “tone of voice, facial expression,” allowing their children to ask whatever questions they have while downplaying the situation.

“The worst outcome here is that all of these kids are incredibly anxious about going to school, and you don’t want that,” she added. “This is really very much like the whole 9/11 situation. What we know from that is that parents allowing the children to hear the information over and over again or view something in regards to the information increases the impact of the trauma.

“Here is an event that could be traumatic for children, but doesn’t have to be, as long as the parents manage it.”

Most important is for parents to remain calm.

“If you want to panic, that’s fine — go to the closet and close the door.”

Also important is to minimize a child’s exposure to media coverage of Wednesday’s events, something, said Henry, that will “only going to escalate their reaction.”

And getting youngsters back to school and a routine is vital.

“As a parent, you just have to insist it is not optional whether or not you go to school.”  

Dr. Harminder Dhillon, a psychiatrist of 20 years, reiterated most of what Henry suggested, stressing for parents to stay calm, adding that if a parent is anxious or overwhelmed their child will feel the same way.

Dhillon said to provide “simple and general” information while empathizing with their child’s concerns and reassuring children they are safe and secure.

“The teenagers will understand what’s going on, but teenagers think they are going to live forever,” concluded Henry. “And the little guys will get over it real quick if their parents do.”

 

nancy.macphee@tc.tc

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