7 strategies to protect your Kids from Media Anxiety

Identifying and disarming childhood fears after a major disaster

In the midst of a national crisis like the Virginia Tech shooting, many parents are wondering what can be done to protect their kids from the additional stress and anxiety that can come from repeated exposure to the extremely disturbing media footage of the school shooting, dying students and SWAT teams swarming over the campus in Blacksburg, VA.
Children and adults can be psychologically affected from repetitive over-exposure to the harsh media footage of the shooter and his violent and hate filled video taped messages to the world. Here are some helpful steps to make sure that your son or daughter is protected from the harmful media images that might create long term anxiety. Watch for the warning signs of media overexposure that can create anxietyHere are some of the symptoms and behaviors that may indicate your child has been overexposed to the traumatic emotions that follow a crisis situation. Remember that your main goal is to protect your child and not minimize or deny their emotional symptoms. The more symptoms present, the greater the need for the child to receive additional support and care from family, clergy, teachers or a counseling or medical professional.- Major changes in energy level, especially lethargy or helplessness - Heightened fear and worry about guns, violence or being hurt by bullies- Changes in sleep patterns, especially nightmares or night terrors- Regressive behavior, (e.g. "baby talk", clingy to parents or bedwetting) - Preoccupation with loss of parents or being stranded without parents - Major swings in school performance, from aggression, withdrawal or apathy- Angry explosions or depressive moodiness stuffed inside in silence- Withdrawal from normal activities at home, church or school- Avoidance of friends, family or pets by going into an emotional "cocoon"Any of the above symptoms can be normal reactions to a crisis event and may not indicate a need for professional counseling, however it is important to watch for major changes in your child's attitude, personality or behavior to know how to help them cope. Here are some action steps that you can begin to use to reduce pressure on your children and keep them emotionally and physically safe after a major critical incident.What can parents do to lessen the harmful impact of anxiety from media?Here are some positive action steps that you can take to help your child avoid the negative impacts of being overloaded from harmful media anxiety. 1) Take care of yourself Since children draw much of their security from their parents, it is important to keep yourself well grounded and supported. Spend more time with healthy family, friends or church members during this time to make sure that you aren't overly anxious and subtly passing that anxiety along to your children. Just like the instructions that flight attendants give if oxygen masks drop from the ceiling of the plane, that parents are to put their masks on first, you have to stay as balanced as possible to effectively care for your child during this stressful time.2) Be aware and be availableThis is a time for extra precautions, but not extra fear. It’s always wise to teach our kids to be aware of their surroundings, and if the child is old enough, you can talk about the importance of keeping their environment safe by locking doors, or paying more attention to daily safety issues, like looking up to notice if any cars in parking lots may be backing out, (as opposed to running through parking lots like children have a tendency to do). During this time pay more attention to being available for your child, to talk, pray or play. As you heighten your level of involvement and support, your child will be less likely to feel afraid because they will draw strength from the stability you provide in the home. 3) Watch your talkIt is recommended that you never discuss your greatest fears with your children, but rather use discernment in discussing your opinions about the shooting on the telephone or with your friends or coworkers if your child could possibly overhear the conversation. Wisdom requires you to guard your tongue around children during this difficult time to protect them from being overly worried or afraid. It is okay to discuss the facts of the shooting in age-appropriate ways with older children, but then move into a discussion of how we should pray for the families of the victims affected. This will create compassion and keep the focus on healing after the crisis, instead of focusing only on the evil of this horrible massacre. Talk is one of the best ways to help a child feel secure, so ask questions and then just listen to allow your child a chance to release their fears in a safe way.4) Monitor media usage and guard Internet images Television and Internet images are extremely powerful and vivid in a child's mind. That’s why you should take great care to avoid having the television on 24/7, but rather limit your exposure to media images, and the amount of time that children might be directly or indirectly exposed to hours of harmful media. If you feel like you must have the television set on for long periods of time, (which is not recommended), then turn the sound off. Talk about the positives of your family being together, or answered prayers, instead of focusing on the negative elements of a terrible tragedy in other part of the country. Guide your children into stabilizing and feeling safe through the daily routines of what is happening in their world, as opposed to events happening on a college campus in another part of the world. Protecting your child from harsh media images now will protect them from having to struggle to get those harmful images out of their head in the future.5) Routine, schedule and rulesChildren draw tremendous security from having a predictable schedule. Build a regular set of morning and evening rituals, like getting ready for school or bedtime stories or prayer time; also pay attention to include meal time and personal hygiene rituals that are age appropriate for your child. Even little guys and gals can help to take their plate from the table to the kitchen counter, or take more ownership of their daily rituals. This actually takes stress off of Mom and Dad as the child grows in independence through the years, but it is even more helpful for the child to feel the sense of empowerment from knowing what do to as they begin and end their day. House rules are always the same rules, which creates stability from predictability. No matter what is happening when there is a crisis in another part of the country, be consistent with your family boundaries to help everyone feel more secure by not allowing chaos to erupt from neglecting the regular established rules for household behavior.6) Reconnect to family, friends and faithCrisis events are an excellent time to reach out to spend more time with friends or family members. If you don't have family nearby, reach out to connect with a local church that has activities designed for you and your child. The additional socialization will help to build a sense of security from having other healthy people to draw support from as we all go through this experience, as well as allow every member of your family to be more aware of God's love and protection. As a suggestion, read Bible verses on finding comfort during difficult times, like this one in Psalm 91: 9-10: "If you make the most High your dwelling-even the Lord, who is my refuge-then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways." The Bible has hundreds of reassuring promises of peace and comfort during fearful times. Now is a perfect time to search out those verses and discuss the importance of a personal faith with your children so that they come to understand how the power of personal belief can give us all of us the courage to face the challenges of life. 7) Focus on hope, instead of helplessnessRemember that we will make it through this difficult time. Keep focused on practical ways to keep your child tuned into their world and the things that are normal to their daily life, instead of overexposure to media images from other parts of the world. As you build these coping skills and life management principles into your home, your children will actually be stronger and less afraid of circumstances because they will be more aware of how to face their anxiety with the assurance of God's protection and peace. Know that you are not alone through this time so reach out to other healthy people and keep reading and developing practical insights to help you and your children cope during the healing days ahead.
Take courage from these words from President George Bush's address at the special convocation service held at Virginia Tech on the day after the shootings. In his message the President quoted Romans 12:21:
"These sources of strength are also in the faith that sustains so many of us. Across the town of Blacksburg and in towns all across America, houses of worship from every faith have opened their doors and have lifted you up in prayer. People who have never met you are praying for you; they're praying for your friends who have fallen and who are injured. There's a power in these prayers, real power. In times like this, we can find comfort in the grace and guidance of a loving God. As the Scriptures tell us, ‘Don't be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.'"
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About the Author: Dwight Bain is a Nationally Certified Counselor & Certified Family Law Mediator in practice since 1984 with a primary focus on solving crisis events and managing major change. Critical Incident Stress Management expert with the Orange County Sheriffs Office, founder of StormStress.com and trainer for over 1,000 business groups on the topic of making strategic change to overcome major stress- both personally & professionally. He is a professional member of the National Speakers Association who partners with major corporations and national organizations to make a positive difference in our culture for Jesus Christ. Access more complimentary counseling and coaching resources from The LifeWorks Group (407.647.7005) by visiting their extensive posting of blogs and special reports designed to save you time by strategically solving problems at www.LifeWorksGroup.org

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