Traumatic Events, the Media and Your Child
The media has an overwhelming presence in our
lives and in our school communities. It is advisable to place
limits on what children see and hear in terms of traumatic world
events. Children do not necessarily have to be sitting in front of
the TV to be traumatised. They will be affected if the TV or radio
is on in the background, when there are news updates or when there
are newsflashes. Children will see pictures in the newspapers and
may read captions or stories.
From: Suggestions for teachers and parents
who are supporting children through the effects of the
Indian Ocean Tsunamis, National Centre For Childhood Grief, 2004, URL: "http://www.childhoodgrief.org.au/tsunami/
What does research tell us?
Viewing disastrous events can lead to more worry and stress in
The way children react depends on their age:
- Infants and toddlers are unable to understand the impact of the
disaster, but recognise and respond to the emotional and
behavioural changes in adults around them
- Preschool children can be upset by what they see on TV. They
may think events are occurring in real time, and that the event is
happening again and again as it is replayed. If preschoolers see
adults upset in response to traumatic events screened on TV, they
are likely to think the events are taking place in their immediate
- Primary school-aged children may be frightened TV images. They
may be confused about information from different sources. They are
often unable to differentiate between events that happened a long
way away, or in another country, from those that are on their own
doorstep and may worry about the impact on their own lives.
- Adolescents have a greater capacity to understand the event,
its causes and consequences. Responses can include anger, desire
for revenge, worry and despair. Sometimes they unsure about how to
respond. They may want to know how other people are responding,
and may be keen to discuss their options, or try to offer
- Listen to children and acknowledge the feelings which go with
what they are saying. Encourage children to talk to their parents
or others at home about what they are thinking.
- In the context of the classroom do not attempt to give overt
'counselling' or 'therapy'. Keep track of the
emotions of the class and if specific needs arise ask for the help
from the guidance officer.
- Note in a low-key way if the behaviour of the individual child
changes. Some children may be expressing violent thoughts through
what they are saying, their interactions with peers, in their
writing and their drawings.
- Keep the issues in the broader context of all the events and
experiences surrounding the child.
- Understand that, as adults, we need to
consider and look after our own mental and physical health and
recognise we are as vulnerable as others in our school community.
While we need to take a professional interest to become informed
about world issues we also need to become more informed about how
those issues can impact on us and others in our school community.