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Traumatic events can impact children everywhere: expert

Events such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in the US can have a profound affect on children everywhere, according to a psychologist and parenting expert.

RUTH CLAYTON December 19, 2012 4:28am

TV images of traumatic events can be distressing for young children.

Children across the world can still be exposed to the trauma of events such as the Sandy Hook Elementary school massacre, according to a psychologist and parenting expert.

Parenting Research Centre chief executive and psychologist Warren Cann said while knowledge of such traumatic stories might be hard to avoid, there were many steps parents could make to lessen the impact on children.

He said the first thing parents needed to ensure was that pre-school aged children were not exposed to distressing or confronting images of a traumatic event.

‘‘TV images can be particularly distressing,’’ Mr Cann said.

‘‘Be aware of background television.’’

Mr Cann said as children got older they would unavoidably be exposed to traumatic information and images, so at this time it was important for parents to do two things.

Firstly, primary school-aged children should be protected from the extremes of adult emotional reactions.

‘‘It’s okay to show sadness but anxiety is catchy, so... it’s not a good idea to share anxieties with children,’’ Mr Cann said.

He said it was a better idea for adults to talk to other adults about their anxieties.

‘‘What children need from parents is the reassurance of safety, that they’re being looked after and they’re safe,’’ he said.

Secondly, he said, parents should be conscious of what their children were taking in and be willing to deal with questions in a factual way.

He said parents should match the detail of answers with the level of interest the child had.

‘‘Don’t provide more information than the child can handle, but just enough that their needs can understand,’’ Mr Cann said.

Mr Cann said with parents of teenagers, it could be worth checking with them what they had seen, heard and what they were thinking.

‘‘Sometimes teenagers worry about this kind of stuff, but not actually get out there and talk about it,’’ Mr Cann said.

‘‘Listening is a wonderful antidote to worry.

‘‘Just good listening is often all the kids need so they can have a sounding board.’’

Mr Cann said if parents noticed their children had become really involved with the issue, it could be good to help them figure out a way to help, for example writing a letter of sympathy or support or making a donation to the cause.

‘‘It can give kids some sort of sense of control,’’ Mr Cann said.

He said if parents noticed a change in their child’s behaviour, or were concerned about them, they should share their concerns with their local GP.

Mr Cann also said if parents had concerns or needed more information they could visit the website or phone Parent Line Victoria on 132289 from 8am to midnight, seven days a week.

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