Weatherford Democrat

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April 19, 2013

Counselor offers advice on dealing with children’s exposure to tragedies

By JUDY SHERIDAN

Repeated media images of disasters and their aftermath — like the devastating explosions this week at the Boston Marathon and the fertilizer plant in West, Texas — can be very upsetting to children, according to Aledo licensed professional counselor David Hunter.

“We may look at what’s happening and say, ‘What the heck,’” he said, “but with them it’s what the heck to the 10th power.”  

“I encourage parents to limit children’s exposure to too much information. I wouldn’t try to keep it from them totally — they have access to so many devices — just don’t leave the television on all the time.”

Hunter said children worry about their parents’ safety as well as their own.

“They respond to tragedy in a wide variety of ways,” he said. “They may try to joke about it — that’s OK.”

A weekly family talk about home safety plans, including how to contact one another in an emergency, can be helpful, Hunter said, as can assuring children that the school they attend is concerned about their safety.

“I had a client with a teenage daughter who didn’t want to go to school after Newtown,” he said.

“We were able to go to the school website where the superintendent of schools was telling them, ‘Here are the ways we’re going to protect you.’”

If a worrisome rumor surfaces at school, he said — like a threat to shoot someone — kids should be taught to report it, so authorities can deal with the source.

Hearing the voice of a distant loved one may also be of benefit, Hunter said.

“They may want to call a grandmother or favorite uncle from out-of-state,” he said. “They’ve just learned that something has happened that’s out of their control, and it may help to be assured that person’s OK.”

Finally, Hunter said parents should talk about the incident, admitting they don’t know all the answers and don’t understand why it happened.

“Let them express themselves in ways they feel comfortable. Doing physical things — like taking a walk — might help them to cut loose. They might also want to write or draw while they talk.”

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