Helping Children and Adolescents Cope with Violence and Disasters: What Parents Can Do

The recent horrific events at Shady Hook Elementary present parents of all school-age children with a difficult set of challenges. How should  parents support and guide their children through this difficult time? Second-hand exposure to violent acts, even though websites or television, can be traumatic for children. The National Institutes of Mental Health has produced a guide to helping children cope with traumatic events. Here are a few key points from the guide.

In general, adults should:

  • Attend to children: listen to them, accept their feelings, help them cope with the reality of their experiences.
  • Reduce other life stressors: fighting within the family, long periods away from friends/family.
  • Monitor healing: pay attention to child’s feelings over time, watch for sudden changes in behavior.
  • Remind them that the adults in their life love and protect them.
  • Keep normal routines or make new ones together.
  • Help children feel in control, where appropriate.


  • Force the child to be re-exposed to the trauma (TV coverage, dinner table conversation, etc.)
  • Make the child discuss the event before they are ready.
  • Get angry if the child shows strong emotions.

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