University of South Florida

USF pediatric psychologist suggests ways to help children cope during crisis

Kathleen Armstrong, pediatric psychologist, USF Health Department of Pediatrics

By Kathleen Armstrong, PhD, NCSP

Most of us are in a state of disbelief because of the recent horrific events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. We not only morn the senseless loss of innocent lives, but as parents and providers we also wonder what we can do to help our children. Below are some ideas that you can use to help children cope: 

– Try to keep routines as normal as possible. Children gain security from the predictability of daily routines, including attending school and other activities.

– Limit children’s exposure to media including television and radio, so that they do not re-experience the tragedy over and over.

– Listen to children’s fears and concerns, encourage them to share their feelings, and provide as much information as they are developmentally able to handle.

  • Preschool children need brief, simple information, and reassurance
  • School-age children may have more questions about their own safety and what is being done to protect children.
  • Older children and adolescents may want to talk about their own ideas for making things safer.

– Tell your children that you love them, give them plenty of hugs and reassure them that they will be okay.

– Consider praying or thinking hopeful thoughts for the victims and their families, and help children express their feelings by drawing a picture, writing a poem or saying a prayer.

– Be observant for changes in your child’s behavior, appetite, or sleep patterns, which can be an indicator their grief response. Some children may need the extra support from a mental health professional or clergy.

You can find more information about helping children cope with crisis at the National Association of School Psychologist website 

Dr. Armstrong is professor and director of Pediatric Psychology in the USF Health Department of Pediatrics.

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