Explaining Catastrophic Events

Explaining a national disaster like the attacks on the U.S. can be difficult for parents. We spoke to an expert who describes the best approach.


Explaining the Unimaginable

At a time when many adults can't find words to describe the recent tragedies, talking about them with children can be especially difficult. For advice, Child spoke with a top expert, Richard A. Embry, Ph.D., assistant professor at Columbia University's School of Social Work in New York City.

Q: Can children develop post-traumatic stress disorder by watching a disaster unfold on TV and in newspapers?

A: Yes. While the media appear to be using good judgment about images that they are broadcasting, many of the images are quite stark and will be frightening and confusing to children. Parents should carefully monitor their children's exposure to media -- particularly TV and newspapers. Some experts recommend listening to the radio with children because it is not a visual medium.

At the same time, limited, carefully chosen TV viewing can provide families with an opportunity to discuss the recent events. Some experts believe that this family-based media exposure can help children understand the recent events in a more supportive, emotionally connected environment.

Q: Should parents reveal their own fear, worry, sadness, and other emotions to their kids?

A: This depends on the age of the child and degree of trauma that a parent is experiencing. Parents who are directly affected by the disasters may have a more limited capacity to control their emotions in front of their children.

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