It's all over social and mainstream media right now. I'm talking about the picture of the little Syrian boy who drowned while trying to escape the nightmare that was his home. The photograph of his precious little body laying at the edge of the water, as mourners and government officials sadly look on is circulating rapidly. I think this indelible image will haunt me for a long time, as intended.
So how do we help children if they see this image and some will? We care deeply about the drowned little boy and the circumstances surrounding his death, but It's just too scary a picture for children to see. Children don't have the capacity to process the depth of what happened to the little boy in the photo and they will become very afraid. After all, most adults are having great difficulty with the image.
We know some children will be exposed to this and many more disturbing pictures, so that's why we need to create a narrative for children to help balance the truth with a sense of security. The Dougy Center is a national center for grieving children and families. They provide support and training locally, nationally and internationally to individuals and organizations seeking to assist children in grief. They offer this helpful article on talking with children about tragic events:
"Try to limit their access to the recurring news and exposure to the tragedy over and over.
Over-exposure to the graphic and emotional news can be overwhelming for children and can cause unnecessary anxiety and fear. Some children who repeatedly watched the footage of planes crashing into the towers on 9/11 thought it was happening again and again. Some children (and some adults) may have difficulty getting graphic scenes and images out of their minds. Too much exposure can fuel their fear, so don’t let them sit and watch the news over and over. Better yet, set the example of not doing so yourself as well."
Donna Schuurman, Ed.D, F.T.
Chief Executive Officer
The Dougy Center for Grieving Children
We cannot turn away from those in need, but we've got to do our best to protect children from the frightening stream of media coverage during a crisis. Try to keep devices and TV off so you can choose how and when you want children to learn about sad and difficult events in life. And if a child comes to school or day care with concerns about what they may have seen on TV or in social media, try to find time to call home during the day to let their adult know they are worried. Create a plan of support together, and assure the child that they are safe.
Mr. Rogers will always be the best teacher on the topic of helping children to feel more secure. He told us,
"Play is one of the important ways young children have of dealing with their concerns. Of course, playing about violent news can be scary and sometimes unsafe, so adults need to be nearby to help redirect that kind of play into nurturing themes, such as a hospital for the wounded or a pretend meal for emergency workers.
When children are scared and anxious, they might become more dependent, clingy, and afraid to go to bed at night. Whining, aggressive behavior, or toilet "accidents" may be their way of asking for more comfort from the important adults in their lives. Little by little, as the adults around them become more confident, hopeful and secure, our children probably will, too."
Copyright (2015) Suzanne Bayer. All Rights Reserved.